Fairchild Chapel to Become Multifaith Prayer Space

Eliza Guinn, Copy Editor

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at Oberlin has been working since the fall of 2015 to recreate Fairchild Chapel as a multifaith prayer space for Oberlin’s campus.

College senior Rand Zalzala, the student coordinator for this project, said that the ORSL’s current focus is to make the space as available and welcoming as possible to members of any and all religious affiliations. Resources like meditation cushions, prayer rugs, prayer beads and religious texts have been made available for students, College employees and community members to use at any time.

“I think that many people want to practice on campus,” Zalzala said. “But they don’t have the space to do it.”

The ORSL is trying to address the chapel’s limited availability, since the space is frequently used for a host of other campus events and scheduling conflicts often arise. Zalzala said that they are promoting the space’s visibility to gather support for a more regular schedule.

“Hopefully, eventually we’ll make [this space] more apparent, and people will use it more,” she said.

Zalzala added that she is optimistic that the scheduling situation will be more manageable in the fall and that the ORSL will be able to make the space more available.

As part of Oberlin’s Religious Life Week, the ORSL held an open house last Thursday in Fairchild Chapel to discuss their efforts, which Zalzala said was extremely successful.

Following the open house, students from Hillel held a memorial service for Sam Price that was open to members of all faiths. The gathering was the first event that opened the chapel as a multifaith prayer space.

Fairchild Chapel will be the only multifaith prayer space on campus once it becomes fully available. However, Zalzala said that places for multifaith worship seem to be more widespread at other schools.

“Last summer I was at Harvard [University], and I saw they have a lot of multifaith chapels,” she said. “And I prayed in one of them, and it had people doing everything in the same place, and I thought it was beautiful, so I thought it would be cool to have something like that here.”

John Elder, OC ’53, former pastor at First Church in Oberlin, has also become involved in the project by sharing some of the chapel’s history with Zalzala.

“Up until the late ’50s, most of the religious life opportunities and volunteer service projects were coordinated through the YMCA and YWCA, which were open to students of any faith tradition,” Elder wrote in an email to the Review.

Among the programs offered were weekly vespers services and frequent matins services, which were conducted by students in Fairchild Chapel, Elder said.

According to Elder, the original pastel-colored glass windows in the apse of Fairchild Chapel were replaced in the late 1950s with stained-glass windows featuring Christocentric imagery.

“Recently, it occurred to me that it might be possible to return to the original pastel glass and thus make the space more congenial to a variety of faith traditions,” Elder said.

However, Elder found that a restoration project had just been completed on the windows, and he believes that they will remain in place for the time being.

“Rand is proposing the possibility of a curtain that could be drawn across the windows, [which] would enhance the space for spiritual practices by non-Christians,” Elder said.

Since Zalzala will be graduating at the end of the semester, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life is currently looking for someone to replace her as coordinator for this effort on campus.