Plans for multifaith center in the works

November 18, 2009

The Pendulum

LEAF President, junior Ross Denyer, and senior Jade Theiere sing hymns at the weekly LEAF service in Holt Chapel on Sunday. Photo by Brian Allenby

In about two years, Elon University students will be able to take a larger part in religious life on campus.

Faculty and students are currently in the planning process for a multifaith center, which would accommodate all different religions as well as religious organizations on campus.

Vice President and Dean of Student Life Smith Jackson and music professor Todd Coleman are currently co-chairing the multifaith center and identity houses committee.

The committee was established by President Leo Lambert, who hoped to place an emphasis on increasing religious diversity, Coleman said. The committee consists of students and faculty who represent different religious affiliations

“It’s a great process to see the development,” sophomore committee member Raj Rawal said. “The religious center is one of the best ideas Elon has had. I feel like having more awareness of what’s going on in other cultures and religions and how we get along is very important, and how critical religion is on college campuses.”

Rawal, who is Hindu, helps out with the statistics in determining the religious demographics of students who may benefit from the center. He said he hopes to implement research groups and surveys to find out more about students’ religious views.

Currently the main committee is split into three sub-committees. One committee is traveling to different colleges and universities throughout the country to better understand their religious centers. One is gathering data to find out the makeup of the student body and get the opinions of students on religious life at Elon. Another is creating a mission statement detailing what religious and spiritual life at Elon should look like.

According to Coleman, the center will most likely contain one main sacred space that could hold about 200 people. There will be offices for religious life leaders such as Father Gerry Waterman, as well as religious organization leaders. Coleman said he thinks there will also be some sort of main social space and spaces for teaching as well.

LEAF, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Friends) currently holds its weekly worship service every Sunday in Holt Chapel and holds meetings in the Truitt Center.

LEAF student president junior Ross Denyer said he has greatly appreciated the use of the Truitt Center, but having a separate center like this would make things easier.

“I think this would be a wonderful opportunity for LEAF or any religious organization,” Denyer said. “It’s very important because there need to be more opportunities for religious organizations to come together regardless of faith or spiritual center.”

The Baptist Student Union takes up Moseley 215 for two hours each week for meetings and could use the extra space, president Sam Jennings said.

“It is really hard to find a meeting room on campus to house a medium sized group of individuals,” Jennings said. “Therefore this center will allow us to have somewhere to meet and have leadership meetings as well.”

Senior Avra Stackpole, president of Hillel, is also looking forward to what the center could bring to the Jewish student organization. Currently, Hillel uses the Newman Center, the Truitt Center and Moseley to host ceremonies and meetings.

“I think it will be nice to sort of have a place where we can have larger meetings and we can also hold events,” Stackpole said. “As the Jewish population continues to grow at Elon, we have more of a need for different things. I think it would be nice to have a place that feels comfortable, and somewhere you can go and take a deep breath.”

In April, the committee will make the recommendations that are being planned to the Board of Trustees. From there, the board will begin looking into funding and execution of the center, which will not be complete for more than two years, Coleman said.

“It’s something President Lambert feels strongly about,” Coleman said. “It’s a visible symbol that says we want to encourage each other in meaningful conversations about religion that is warm and friendly. The multifaith center looks outward in a way that seeks to be more understanding and sympathetic with other points of view.”

The second step of the process will be to hold open campus forums that will take place for student input on the center. They will be at 4:15 p.m. Dec. 1. in Koury 145. All students are welcome to attend.


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