Ecumenism: An Ecumenical University in California

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Ecumenism: An Ecumenical University in California

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(Bill Maxwell, St Petersburg Times) I’ve seen so many ways that organized religion and religious organizations divide people, even causing conflict between nations, that I’m always surprised and pleased whenever I discover an example of something related to religion that brings people together for the public good.

An effort at Chapman University is an example. I read about the private university in the March 13 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. With an undergraduate population of a little more than 4,000, Chapman is in Orange County, California, one of the nation’s most conservative regions. It is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. And although the number of Disciples students has fallen during the last two decades — down to 2.5 percent this term — the school maintains special scholarships for students of the denomination.

How did the school bring different faiths together for the public good? Officials began by constructing a physical place, the Fish Interfaith Center, where disparate souls could commingle, where genuine fellowship is possible. Until 2004, Chapman had an off-campus chapel that didn’t encourage non-Disciples students to worship there.

The Chronicle captures the center’s essence: “The Fish Interfaith Center — a modern structure with almost no right angles — lies at the heart of campus … and is open to anyone, day or night. … The center’s architecture is based on four ‘universal’ elements of the sacred: water, light, nature, and features that bring a person up or bring the heavens down.

The building is almost devoid of religious symbols. The smaller chapel has a cross, but the top beam is removable and can be interchanged with a crescent or a Star of David. A table beside it is decorated with a pattern based on the chalice that serves as the symbol of the Disciples of Christ, but it is covered with a white cloth during Shabbat services. The rest of the center’s imagery either mingles elements from different religions’ traditions or has no direct connection to any of them.