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home : opinion : perspectives

11/2/2017 9:00:00 AM
Mourning the loss of UAlbany's Interfaith Center

As a student at The University at Albany, the campus Interfaith Center is its own world -- a place to retreat from the daily worries of classes and cluttered dorms.

I go to the Interfaith Center twice a week. I have always felt welcomed. Two times a week, I don't have to worry about deadlines, tests and assignments. When I am at the Interfaith Center, it always feels like a brief pause.

One reason the Interfaith Center is so important to me is because of its location. By not being on the podium -- the center of campus -- the center is very quiet, and the natural backdrop behind the building enhances the tranquility. The location is so important for allowing disconnection from the troubles of everyday life.

The Interfaith Center is where I have met many of my friends, where we come together and talk about our week. If this building never existed, I never would have made so many new friends.

This building has allowed me to live out my faith more than I could have imagined. All the facilities at the Interfaith Center, especially the kitchen, make it feel more like a home. Everything comes together to form a space that means so much to me in my college career.


(Editor's note: Ms. Reid is director of campus ministry for the Albany Diocese and campus minister for The University at Albany.)

For seven years, I have been privileged to work, pray, study, celebrate and grow in faith with students and people from all walks of life at the Interfaith Center at The University at Albany. Now, we are facing the end of an era: In June of 2018, the Interfaith Center will be closed. Chaplains' offices will be moved into the UAlbany Campus Center and both Catholic campus ministry, and interfaith work on campus will be dramatically altered.

Last December, the Interfaith Center was sold to The University at Albany. The land and the building now belong to the university, which has decided there is a greater need for office space than for a free-standing Interfaith Center with dedicated sacred space. The terms of the sale promised office space for the chaplains and space for interfaith programming, but did not promise to preserve the full range of services offered by the Interfaith Center.

To those who have been part of the UAlbany faith community, the Interfaith Center is far more than a building. It has been a place where students can explore their faith, ask questions, form friendships with people of other faiths and relax. It has provided a dedicated sacred space with a Christian chapel and Jewish sanctuary, and a green space in the midst of a bustling concrete campus.

Since I began my ministry here in 2010, I have been privileged to watch the Interfaith Center grow under student leadership:

•  In 2012, Samantha Leuschner, then-student president of the Newman Association, spearheaded the creation of an interfaith meditation and prayer room. It is a peaceful space with sacred texts and objects from all the major world religions. This room is a beloved place for prayer and stillness, with students, faculty and the wider community coming to pray.

•  Alessio Fasullo built an outdoor meditation labyrinth on the Interfaith Center grounds as his Eagle Scout project. Alessio later transferred to UAlbany and became a member of the Newman Association -- his choice of schools made in part because of his connection with the Interfaith Center. The labyrinth he built has become a place of prayer for many people.

The Interfaith Center's two kitchens -- a kosher kitchen and a common kitchen -- bring together students of many faiths to cook and break bread together. Working with them to prepare weekly community dinners has been one of my greatest joys. Students share meals from their own cultural backgrounds; others had never cooked before coming to college. Sitting down to share a homemade meal they've prepared together is a highlight of the week.

Students have been responsible for the expansion of our interfaith lending library into an impressive resource, with materials covering nearly every faith that are used for research and personal enrichment.

Much of this will be lost in a move to the campus center. There will be no consecrated space, no chapels or sanctuaries. The space the university is offering would not accommodate an interfaith meditation room or a library. There will be no kitchens, no green space, no prayer garden, no labyrinth. There will be no homey space to get away from campus for a while.

The campus center will not be accessible to the wider community, either. Over the years, the Interfaith Center has hosted interfaith iftar dinners for Ramadan, feeding 150 people and offering a space for faith leaders from many traditions to share their practices of fasting and prayer and celebrate what draws us together. The center has hosted weddings, baptisms, bar and bat mitzvahs and memorial services. It has been the birthplace of community movements like the annual North Star Peace Walk.

The loss of the Interfaith Center will not mark the end of Catholic campus ministry at UAlbany, or of interfaith work. The chaplains and their ministries will remain. Most importantly, the faith communities of students, faculty and staff will remain. They are the heart of our ministry. Although the Interfaith Center has been of immeasurable importance to our community, we are more than a building. We are a creative, vibrant, faithful body of people drawn together by the Spirit, and we have confidence that the Spirit will continue to guide us.

As the writer of Ecclesiastes teaches us, there is a time for everything. If this move goes forward, there will be a time to rebuild, take stock, make the most of the space we are given and creatively minister to the campus community. But there is a time, too, to acknowledge the weight of what we will lose. There is a time to mourn.

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