Johns Hopkins Gazette: August 4, 1997

Building To Be
Used For Faith,

Steve Libowitz
Since it was founded in 1876, Johns Hopkins University has projected--and protected--its reputation as a secular institution. But it has long supported student religious organizations and spiritual pursuits of its faculty and staff.

Now it will enhance that support.

Last month, the university completed the acquisition of a building last used by a Methodist congregation that merged recently with Grace United Methodist Church. After several months of renovations and house cleaning, the red-door building on the southeast corner of Charles Street and University Parkway will be home to the university's student religious organizations and many student community and service-oriented clubs.

The building was purchased for $950,000 and needs about a half-million dollars of renovations, says John Lordan, interim senior vice president for administration. Lordan anticipates the cost of the building and renovations will be underwritten by donors as part of the $900 million Hopkins Initiative. Although the building's utility is at present drawn only in broad strokes, he believes it will benefit both the university and the community.

"The building represents a major entry point to the broader Homewood campus," he said. "It will serve the spiritual needs of all faiths on the campus and provide a focus for a wide range of Hopkins community service activity."

Sharon Kugler, university chaplain, director of Campus Ministries and the building's primary tenant, said the building, built between 1919 and 1927, fills a tremendous need.

"The religious landscape is changing in America, and it is changing here at Hopkins," she said. "The Homewood campus has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of student religious organizations and groups as well as a spiraling number of participants in religious services and spiritual activities. When I first arrived in 1993 there were eight active religious groups on campus; there are now 15. This renewed interest in spiritual quests and religious traditions has contributed greatly to our students' educational experience as well as to the life of our community."

As a center for religious observance and gathering, Kugler said she anticipates "regular services to be held in the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim traditions as well as non-denominational prayer and/or meditation experiences."

The street-level chapel seats about 300. Kugler said she hopes to remove the first three rows in the center section of pews to better accommodate Muslim and Hindu services.

The stained glass adorning the chapel poses somewhat of a challenge, Kugler said, because it reflects distinctly Christian scenes. She expects part of the renovation to include covering the glass in some flexible fashion and making other minor changes to ensure the chapel, particularly, is truly ecumenical. Kugler also expects the chapel will get used for performances, such as gospel concerts.

"The center is ideal for concerts, such as the kind that our own Gospel Choir holds," she said. "It can also be used for performances or special lectures. The nave of the church has a lovely open, warm feeling with wonderful acoustics. At long last we will have a space for university-wide celebrations such as baccalaureate services."

The downstairs is a spacious area with two big kitchens, one featuring an authentic pizza oven. Kugler said Campus Ministries will be but one of the offices using the space.

"The downstairs space will also contain a religious resource center with AV materials, books and periodicals," she said. "There will also be meeting space for student religious groups. There will be a rather large open area downstairs, which will remain so. It is our hope that the students will make use of this space in creative ways. I have already talked with some about a biweekly coffee house; others have spoken of even more community service projects.

Student reaction, so far, has been enthusiastic. During the past year or so, representatives of many undergraduate organizations were made aware of the university's hope to purchase the building. Julie Schames, an active member of the Jewish Student Association, toured the building last year.

"I'm really happy about it," says the junior from Los Angeles. "Not even so much for what it will mean for the JSA as what it says about Hopkins. This [purchase] says that religious expression is not peripheral at Hopkins anymore. I hate to put religion in dollars and cents, but this [acquisition] tells us we matter."

Schames said the space will be a good one for the Jewish students because it will easily accommodate the often differing needs of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements. For example, she said, there is a balcony in the chapel, which will allow the Orthodox students to hold services with the traditional separation of men and women.

Other groups should find the space equally inviting, Kugler said.

"There will be a dedicated space downstairs for prayer and meditation as well. The Muslim students will have access to it five times a day, and other groups or individuals can use it as a space for quiet prayer and reflection."

Both Lordan and Kugler are quick to emphasize that the building, tentatively called the Johns Hopkins Center for Faith and Service, will also be an important gateway between the university and the community.

"We intend for the center to house many of the community service projects, which the campus religious groups have wanted to do on a much larger scale than they have been able to in the past," Kugler said. "It also allows for other specific projects through the Office of Volunteer Services to find an appropriate home, thereby enabling us as a community to do more and to be more for our neighbors.

"For many reasons this center has the potential to be a tremendous gift in the lives of our students as well as of the broader university community," she said. "One specific example is that it will foster the important connection between faith and service. This connection is not only central to a well-developed faith life, but service must be central to our thinking as world citizens. The privileges we hold here at Hopkins need to be shared. Our students are anxious to serve, to reach out to others and to contribute to the Baltimore community. Through the Office of Volunteer Services this is already happening; however, this new space allows us to do even more.

"Our dream for the Center for Faith and Service is for a space that is inviting, engaging and vibrant. A space which by its very nature is an ideal venue for the integration of spirituality with the development of human values."

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