Growing up as the daughter of a Lutheran pastor in a rural Ohio, Moriah Reichert knows the inescapable awareness and responsibility being “the pastor's kid" brings.
In a town barely bigger than the population of Capital University, even a small act of teenage rebellion can escalate quickly and fuel local gossip. So, when she came home to Archbold on the day before Easter and attended worship with pink and purple hair, she provided plenty of fuel for the rumor mill.
Her parents, on the other hand, took it all in stride. Moriah’s dad reassured her that if people can’t see beyond the color of her hair – especially in a church – there are bigger issues to talk about.
“I really have wonderful parents," Moriah said. “They are always willing to help guide my siblings and me through some of those pressures so that we didn’t just fall into rebellion. I always felt they were a safe place to go and talk to.”
Fortunately, the Moriah most people know is a rebel with a cause. The Capital University junior is an inquisitive scholar committed to understanding the complex ideology of 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose work and transformative thought has largely influenced the contemporary western world. This pursuit led her to a 10-week summer research project titled, “Spiritual, not Religious,” which explores the post-modern phenomenon responsible for spawning a growing demographic in America of people who don’t affiliate with the traditional religious institutions but still seek meaning within the divine.
“As someone who grew up in the church, and as a religious studies major, I find it fascinating the way people find spiritual fulfillment,” said Moriah. “One thing the church needs to look at is that there are people who are still asking the deeper questions, even if they’re not affiliated. They are still investing that time.”
She points out that, historically, the words spiritual and religious have been synonymous. But that is changing. Moriah has found, through her research, that the word “spiritual” appeals to people as a more private, personal and inner experience, while a word like “religion” is often regarded as being associated with the institution.
Word associations are key to research, and Moriah’s research showed people consistently would place negative words like institution, hierarchy and dogma under the religion column. But under spirituality, they tend to put things like prayer and experience, along with various types of more positive words.
Challenging established institutions and the status quo through free inquiry, critical thinking and willingness to change are among the core principles of Lutheran higher education. So, with an opportunity to start fall 2017 studying abroad in Heidelberg, Germany, Moriah couldn't pass up traveling to center of one of the most transformative events in recorded history.
– Moriah Reichert
“This is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and as someone who grew up as the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, the chance to be in Germany during this time did not seem like something I could pass up,” Moriah said. “My dad studied abroad in the Netherlands and I grew up hearing all those stories about how impactful that was for him. My parents always said if I wanted to study abroad, they would do anything they could to make it happen."
But the highlight of her trip, Moriah admits, will be when her family joins her there for six days.
“I’m really just over the moon that what I’m able to do is helping to facilitate my siblings experiencing Europe before they graduate from high school. Getting to see them in the middle of that long time away is really exciting for me.”
Martin Luther’s courage and willingness to ask questions has always inspired Moriah. But she also reminds us that he wasn’t driven by a sense of rebellion as much as deep-rooted love for the church and a desire to see it thrive. His intent was never to start a religion apart from the Catholic church.
“I think the really important thing to remember about the Reformation is that it wasn’t Luther’s goal to break off. He would probably be deeply grieved to know that there are Lutherans walking around that aren’t really part of the church,” she says.
"Luther's goal was to change, to reform. It wasn't to break away. It wasn’t to fracture. He was simply asking us to look at what we're doing together honestly and be willing to say what is and isn't working. I think that is a noble pursuit and a way that all of us could look at our lives and say, 'How do we need to be reforming now?' It's something that Capital is always doing," Moriah says.
Like Capital, Luther was also deeply invested in the idea of purpose. In fact, Moriah points out that the Protestant Reformation actually started on a college campus, where new thought and radical change are often born. She maintains that all of these higher-level questions about purpose and our place in the world are the things that Luther, and likewise Capital, are really engaged in.
"There's something about being Lutheran that's academic," Moriah began. "There's this sense that we're thinking all the time. This is a characteristic of Capital and our president [Beth Paul, Ph.D.], who always reminds us that we're focused on purpose."
As a high school student who was certain she wanted to attend college in a much bigger venue, Moriah's path to Capital once seemed unlikely, even though both her parents went here. Her mother, Beth (Shiley), was a Capital ('88) and Trinity Lutheran Seminary ('93) graduate, and her father, Paul, graduated from Trinity in 1993. With established ties like this, it was always assumed by family and friends that Capital would be on Moriah’s short list.
Moriah and Beth Reichert are not only mother and daughter, but also sorority sisters. Beth (Shiley), was a Capital ('88) and Trinity Lutheran Seminary ('93) graduate and also a Pi Phi Epsilon alumna, which is also the same sorority that daughter Moriah is in.
But something changed when she visited. Like the sudden connection one feels when purpose becomes clear.
“We got in that morning,” Moriah started. “I literally got out of the car, put my foot on the ground and it was just like that feeling where you acknowledge that, 'OK, this is where I'm supposed to be.'
“I didn’t fully understand the benefits of a small university until I got here,” Moriah said. “As an admissions visit leader, I make sure I emphasize the benefits of a small school.”
To Moriah, what is affectionately referred to as “CapFam” is real. Not only did her parents meet here, her mom was also in the same Pi Phi Epsilon sorority that Moriah is in.
She explained how special that really is.
"I love that my mom, who has been out of Bexley for several decades, is able to come back and still feel that she still has a place here. CapFam is real. It really means something for the past, present and future grads."
When leading tours through Capital, Moriah reminds future students that although Capital is an ELCA-affiliated institution, being Lutheran is not a prerequisite to come here. One religion class is all that is required as part of the general education core, but she points out that the class isn't Bible study as much as it is the academic engagement of religion.
“The academic study of religion is very different than going to church,” Moriah started to explain. "In fact, sometimes, professors ask you to set your faith down in a way that allows you to be objective. And when speaking of your faith, always preface your position as the 'lens' you are looking through. This is really important because we have so many students of various faiths or religious traditions on campus.
“Talking about religion can be taboo and a difficult thing, but at Capital, it is an asset. A college setting is good preparation for how to speak respectfully and to ask questions in a way that offers validity and doesn't undercut people's experiences."
When Capital and Trinity announced their intent to reunite, Moriah said many students only wondered what that means specifically to them. From the average student’s perspective, she indicated there is more of a tendency to focus on the physical spaces and needs like parking and housing.
But as a Religious Studies major and someone who will pursue advanced degrees, the Capital-Trinity reunion announcement meant much more.
"It makes complete sense for Trinity and Capital to come together because we both have the same kind of goals." She began. "At the institutional level, I think it's really exciting to bring us back under one roof, and as a Religion major, it gives me the opportunity to take classes that have both undergraduates and graduates in them. We benefit from their experiences, especially the seminarians who are coming is as a second or third career."
Moriah has a strong voice when asked about the ways to meet the needs of a student population that is changing. Sharing a common mission with a seminary like Trinity, which is rich in its history of service, is a win-win situation, even if that means changing the way we do things.