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Bowdoin Faith Groups Gather for First Interfaith Dinner

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Before sitting down to share a meal Wednesday night in Daggett Lounge, Bob Ives, director of religious and spiritual life, gathered the 35 or students at Bowdoin’s inaugural interfaith dinner into a circle.

After welcoming the students, Ives began describing the six big lighthouses in Casco Bay: Portland Head Light, Spring Point, Ram Island, Two Lights, Bug Light and Halfway Rock Light. “Every lighthouse has a slightly different light pattern, so fishermen, navigators and seamen can safely navigate home by the different lights,” he explained.

Ives then likened the lighthouses to Bowdoin’s six faith groups — the Catholic Students Union, Muslim Students Association, Bowdoin Hillel, Bowdoin Community Gospel Choir, Bowdoin Christian Fellowship and Circle. “You are like these lighthouses on the Bowdoin campus, bringing light, enlightenment and inspiration.”

Ives, who was hired last year as Bowdoin’s first-ever director of religious and spiritual life, organized the dinner to introduce students in the campus’s faith groups to one another. He also wanted to pitch to them the idea of starting an Interfaith Council.

Ameena Khan ’14 reads a sura

Ameena Khan ’14 reading a sura

Ives said he envisions the council made up of one or two representatives from each of Bowdoin’s faith groups. The group would meet regularly to plan interfaith activities and suppers throughout the year. At these suppers, to stimulate dialogue, students should feel free to ask any question of one another about religion, without fear of embarrassment or recrimination, Ives said.

The Interfaith Council would also invite speakers to campus to lecture on anything from Muslims in Maine to the connection between art and religion. It might also organize an interfaith celebration around Thanksgiving or around music, Ives suggested, and stage field trips to interesting religious spots in the area, such as the last Shaker village in the world, in New Gloucester, Maine, or the Swedenborgian Church in Bath.

Ameena Khan ’14, who helps lead the Muslim Students Association, worked with Ives to organize the dinner. “By gathering students of various religious and spiritual groups I wanted to convey the unification of all faith and spiritual traditions,” she said. “I appreciate Bowdoin’s tolerant and inviting campus atmosphere, yet it is vital for students of religious groups to lead by example and promote religious pluralism in order to ensure that the campus will remain open, respectful and diverse for future students.”

Khan, who will play a role in the Interfaith Council, said the council’s role will be partly to address and mediate concerns of students who are seeking to practice their faith on campus. “We will work with [Ives] to accommodate student requests and suggestions, in order to ensure that all students are able to aspire for spiritual growth during their time at Bowdoin while familiarizing with and appreciating the practices of fellow students,” she explained in an email.

At the dinner, leaders from each faith group stood up to describe their group and its mission on campus. They also shared a blessing, as well as a traditional story emblematic of a message they believed in. Khan read a sura from the Quran, translating it later into English. Lucy Walker ’14, from the spiritual group Circle, read the poem “Love After Love,” by Derek Walcott. The hamotzi, the Jewish blessing over bread, was shared, as was a Christian blessing.

To end the event, Ives offered a Scottish blessing, “Lang may yer lum reek,” which means, “Long may your chimney smoke.”

But that’s just the literal translation, Ives said. “The spiritual translation is, ‘truly may your home and lives be warned by love, peace and joy of God’s very special blessing,” he explained. “May we go forward in peace.”

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