A new Office of Spiritual and Religious Life at Kenyon recognizes the need for mutual understanding, spiritual comfort and the exploration of religions and their narratives.
In creating the office, President Sean Decatur also named Marc Bragin, Jewish chaplain for the College, as office director, effective July 1. The College, working with the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio and the Church of the Holy Spirit, also is re-establishing an Episcopal chaplaincy in the context of the new office.
“The rich diversity of life at Kenyon includes students, faculty and staff of a number of religions and spiritual beliefs, and I believe our new Office of Spiritual and Religious Life, with Marc Bragin as director, will achieve its goals of encouraging community-wide dialogue and understanding and fostering spiritual growth,” Decatur said. “In Marc, Kenyon has a strong moral voice, an open mind and a source of compassion.”
Bragin believes people in the Kenyon community acknowledge the divisions among religious beliefs and between people of faith and those who rebuff organized religion but are keenly aware of the importance of living and learning together. “Let’s give our students and our colleagues the proper tools, the means, to make the decision for themselves about the kinds of lives they lead,” Bragin said.
The Episcopal chaplain also will serve as priest for the Harcourt Parish Episcopal Church that worships at the Church of the Holy Spirit and will be employed jointly by Kenyon, the parish and the diocese.
The roles of chaplain for the College and priest for the parish will be blended. Adam Serfass, associate professor of classics, a member of the parish and chairman of the parish job search committee, hopes the person will move fluidly between the two. “One of the things we’re really looking for is someone who has a real commitment to interfaith and ecumenical dialogue,” Serfass said.
Although Kenyon is nonsectarian, the parish and the church are reminders of the College’s Episcopal heritage. Bishop Philander Chase founded the parish in 1827, shortly after he established the College.
“I think the part of the Episcopal heritage that lives on is an interest in scholarly inquiry, investigation of texts and an intellectual approach to the world,” Serfass said. The parish has made a greater effort to connect with students of all beliefs in recent years regarding community service, social justice and events such as Wednesday night dinners when a variety of people gather for homemade meals and speakers at the Parish House on Brooklyn Street, he said.
Bragin anticipates a smooth chaplain collaboration. “We hopefully will do great interfaith work together to build bridges among the different groups on campus,” he said.
His goal is for all projects to fall under one of five tenets for the new office: fellowship, prayer, worship, meditation and study. The office will provide an outlet for advice on projects or services by various student organizations. Bragin’s office will remain in the Rothenberg Hillel House.
The Office of Spiritual and Religious Life is part of the Student Affairs Division under the supervision of Meredith Harper Bonham ’92, vice president for student affairs, who said the addition will create a more obvious religious center for the Kenyon community.
“The office will promote opportunities for all of our students to engage in interfaith dialogues and conversations about big-picture questions in keeping with Kenyon's pluralistic liberal arts tradition,” Bonham said.
The existing Board of Spiritual and Religious Life, which will continue to include students, faculty members and community members, is part of the new office. The board is chaired by Elizabeth Keeney. The work of the board and religious programming should be driven by students, Bragin said. “We want students to take ownership of their spiritual life on campus.”