In 1975, a new university was born on the east coast of Canada that sought to embody a uniquely Christian alternative to typical Canadian higher education. After a challenging first decade, a clearer vision emerged in which the university developed an emphasis on providing a quality educational experience by creating a rich community life and shared, travel-based learning experiences.
The particular characteristics that make up the heart of the community at St. Stephen’s University have been formed through all of its years of existence and continue to develop. From the beginning, the hopes and intentions of faculty, staff and board members have joined together with the gifts and experiences of the students who have become a part of SSU. The result has been the creation of a distinctive flavour of life together. All the hardships, challenges and joys of this shared life have shaped the community in unexpected ways. Many of us see our story as a subtle, yet still powerful, account of divine guidance that has led to an outcome better than what was foreseen.
A key example of this grace has been the gift of being small. At any given time, we have never had more than a hundred students studying at SSU. While there are certainly challenges with being Canada’s smallest university, our small size has enabled us to develop a learning environment in which authentic and caring relationships are central. Whether travelling together, working together in the kitchen, or discussing ideas in the classroom, students push past the natural differences of personalities and viewpoints and experience a taste of “unity in diversity.” Similarly, students have opportunities to develop relationships with staff and faculty not only in the classroom, but at mealtimes, community events, and during shared travel experiences.
A phrase which has become very important to us in recent years is our desire to nurture a “fire at the centre” of our community. Just as a hearth is used to represent the centre of the family home, so the faith and life-long commitments of our faculty and staff are vital and unique resources that we treasure, keeping vision flowing organically from intentionally lived life into the SSU community (and back again!) We know we are embodying this fire at the centre in the best way when all who are a part of the community experience being “loved and known,” even in the midst of the messiness and imperfections that are always a part of relationships.
Since it is so important to us that students and others experience being “loved and known” at SSU, we want people to serve at SSU who will contribute to this. So as well as having the necessary skills and competencies for their role, we will be looking for those who have demonstrated, in their lives and their social contexts, a deep respect for everyone (in spite of differences) and a commitment to being humble and honest team players. All staff, faculty and volunteers at SSU are expected to contribute to the community’s ongoing growth and transformation while gratefully and openly being transformed themselves by their experience in this community.
In keeping with these hopes and goals, we will not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or race/ethnicity. We are interested in the heart, in the demonstrated character and maturity of the individuals seeking to work at SSU. It is very challenging to capture the essence of this kind of character and maturity, but three classic examples in the Christian tradition (that also resonate with most spiritual and wisdom traditions) are:
- People who are committed to aiming for the Golden Rule (treating others as they would like to be treated) – Luke 6.31
- People who show evidence of the “fruit of the Spirit” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) – Galatians 5.22
- People who seek to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with their God – Micah 6.8
It is also important to us that those coming to serve at SSU are attracted to and committed to the evolving Christian vocation that has helped shape SSU through the years. This vocation has been understood and experienced differently by many people over many years, but a common thread for most of us would be our desire to form a community providing a quality university education that has been deeply shaped by our encounter with Jesus and the kind of costly, but renewing, personal and social transformations that are possible as a result. It is our hope that this Christian vocation is understood broadly enough that it welcomes and affirms those who belong to any Christian denomination as well as those who prefer alternative forms of Christian community.
We are not associated with any particular denomination and our staff, faculty and board members have always included people from a wide variety of faith traditions. We do not need to think alike, even about the cultural controversies of our times. We understand that everyone’s journey is unique, and we welcome students to journey with us wherever they currently find themselves. Honest and thoughtful struggle with our doubts and beliefs is a part of any healthy intellectual or spiritual growth, and we want this to characterize the transformation that is a part of this academic experience.
And so, as a Christian university:
The Mission of SSU is to prepare people, through academic and personal development, for a life of justice, beauty, and compassion, enabling a humble, creative engagement with their world.
This handbook serves as an introduction to those near and far who want to know what kind of community SSU strives to be. It represents a history and a vision, ideals and realities, agreements and compromises on differences. It seeks to express the kind of community that those who are and have been a part of St. Stephen’s University are committed to building together.