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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Center for Religious and Spiritual Life replaces Chaplaincy

By Emma Gallegos

At a college that the Princeton Review often ranks in the top 20 for students who “ignore God on a regular basis,” a visible effort is underway to change the way religious programming is done.

Announced by a colorful flier earlier this week, the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life and the student-run Multifaith Council opened this year.
Housed in the basement of the Weyerhaeuser Memorial Chapel, the Center is the brainchild of a committee that began meeting nearly four years ago in order to rethink the way religious and spiritual life was organized on campus.
The fifteen-member committee—consisting of students, faculty and outside consultants—explored what other colleges had done and came up with a set of recommendations. Student members attended conferences at Princeton and Johns Hopkins Universities to gather ideas.

“We went through what we called a ‘visioning process’ and asked ourselves what a religious center would look like in 10 years,” said Chaplain Lucy Forster-Smith, who now adds Associate Dean for Religious and Spiritual Life to her title.

She and other staff members have had their titles modified to reflect their role changes in the new Center. Even Student Assistant Stephanie Fiedler ’07 noted that she has been encouraged to take a more active leadership role in Center programming than when she was a Chapel Monitor.

The Chapel’s name change was also key. The Christian word “chapel” was dropped from the Center’s name in favor of the more inclusive terms “religious and spiritual.”

Zach Teicher ’07, a member of the Multifaith Council as well as Macalester Jewish Organization, said he hopes that the religious organizations on campus embrace the name change and the Center’s effort to make the space inter-religious.

However, the upstairs space, which was a gift, will continue being called the Weyerhaeuser Memorial Chapel, despite the fact that it was originally built as a Christian space with an altar and pews. Forster-Smith said that they will considering reconfiguring other spaces on campus in the future, since there are still needs that cannot be met given the number of students and traditions the Center serves.
Office spaces in the basement have already been reconstructed to create more student-centered spaces. For example, an office for the Multifaith Council was constructed over the summer.

Forster-Smith also has plans to create a student gallery space around the outer wall of the chapel to make the space more welcoming and inclusive, showcasing works with inter-religious themes such as a photo essay on pilgrimage. In the basement, meditation cushions and a walking labyrinth, a traditionally Christian meditation tool, will be added.
Composed of students from all the religious organizations as well as members at large, the Council is an outgrowth of the Chaplain’s Multifaith Roundtable, which met once a month last year to share a meal and discuss various inter-religious concerns, as well as the changes that are currently being implemented with the new center.

Teicher says he is hoping to take the goal of working toward mutual religious understanding out of the more insular setting of the roundtable to the wider campus community through this council.
Council member Jessie Light ’08 said she hopes that some of the new programming events might help raise awareness about the spirituality of students on campus—even those active, mainstream Christians who don’t exactly fit into the Macalester stereotype of ignoring God on a regular basis.

The Council plans to host student panels discussing inter-religious topics and bring in speakers from the outside, or even professors at Macalester, who want to share their religious or spiritual experiences in their “Coming out as a Person of Faith” series.

Other programs put on by the Center, Forster-Smith said, will include focusing on a different tradition every month and creating calendars that list the feast days of different religions. She said the Center will also work to create ties with the Lilly Project and other cultural organizations that have strong religious components, such as MASECA and Voices of Tamani.

The Center for Religious and Spiritual Life will hold an open house in October.

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