This profile was last updated in 2009
Chapman University traces its founding to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a small liberal protestant denomination. The Disciples tradition has a long history of ecumenism, and the Disciples were early members of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, one of the first organizations committed to interfaith dialogue. Later in the 20th century the Disciples denomination officially began extending dialogue to partners of all religious traditions. The Fish Interfaith Center at Chapman University represents this commitment. The Center is named in honor of the Rev. Dr. Merle and Marjorie Fish. Dr. Fish was a sociology professor, a Disciples of Christ minister, and a graduate of Chapman (Class of ’40). The Wallace All Faiths Chapel, which is housed in the Interfaith Center, is named in honor of the Rev. Ray and Pauline Wallace. The Wilkinson Founders Chapel, a small chapel within the building, is named in honor of J.E. and Flora Scott Wilkinson. J.E. Wilkinson, long-time chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, made the first contribution to the Chapel construction fund in memory of his wife, Flora. The University faced an interesting challenge seeking to create space that would be recognized as sacred by all religious traditions. Rather than using any permanent, tradition-specific symbolism (all such symbolism is moveable), the design committee identified four symbols common to religious traditions: light, nature, water, and architecture that either brings the cosmos into the space or that seems to lift one into the cosmos. To these four universal symbols, the architect, AC Martin Partners, added the notion of spiritual journey. The Fish Interfaith Center was officially opened in the fall of 2004.
The Fish Interfaith Center has won various awards for its design including the Architectural Award from the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design in 2002, and an 8-page pictorial article in the August 2005 issue of Interior Design Magazine for which it received the “Best of Year” award in the Institutions category for 2006. The building is sandy brick on the outside, with a “floating roof” design, and landscaping mostly consisting of waving desert grasses in sacred mound formations. A tall light tower, reminiscent of a minaret, stands at the main entrance, with backlit marble panels radiating a soft, lantern-like glow. The main entrance was designed by artist Lita Albuquerque and is titled “Solar Star Score and Fountain.” Five hundred pound double glass doors with beautiful bronze detailing, created by Nori Sato, connect the various elements of Albuquerque’s piece. Under foot, various blue ribbons are carved in the walkway, leading into one blue tile inlay river in the front hall. The swirling blue lines are actually the star chart of the Water Bearer constellation. Inscribed in the streams are quotations and sayings reflecting on themes of water, music, and the Divine. At the opposite end of the front hall shines a gold-leaf sun disc fountain installation. To the left, the main chapel sits tranquilly, beckoning with its bright light. Awe-inspiring four-story vaulted ceilings, and windows that change color based on the sunlight, both throughout the day, and throughout the year, create an airy, ethereal mood in the worship space. Above the raised dais and altar hangs Richard Turner’s large abstract bronze sculpture entitled “Equinox Sunrise”, suspended from clear wires, as if floating down from heaven. On the platform are black lacquered chancel furnishings with intricate marquetry of abstract images of galaxies and stars, the work of William Tunberg. The Interfaith Center also houses the Founder’s Chapel, the offices of the Interfaith Center staff and the Office of Church Relations staff, and the beautiful Garden of the Senses and Columbarium, landscaped by Susan Narduli.
Structure and Staffing
The Fish Interfaith Center is staffed by the Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel, the Administrative Assistant to the Dean, and student docents. The separate, but related Office of Church Relations is also housed in the Center. The Office of Church Relations provides the official link between Chapman University and its founding tradition, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as well as the United Church of Christ. The Interfaith Center Advisory Council, consisting of twenty-five student, faculty, staff, administrator, trustee, and Orange County religious leader members, also assists the Dean with “development and evaluation of [the] policies and programming” of the Center. The Interfaith Council, led by and composed of students representing the religious groups on campus, meets weekly in the Interfaith Center, and is officially supported by the Center staff.
Activities and Schedule
In 1999, the University received the Templeton Foundation Award for Spiritual Growth Programs. The opening of the Fish Interfaith Center in 2004 enabled an expansion of spiritual programming opportunities. The Center hosts weekly gatherings of students from various religious traditions, including Latter-day Saints, Baha’i, Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic, Wicca, and protestant Christian groups. Most of these organizations meet for worship in the sacred space, but other events such as panel discussions, concerts, and film screenings are frequently held as well. During the week the Interfaith Center may host everything from group meditation, to the Book of Mormon reading club, the Interfaith Council meeting, and Hillel’s Shabbat service and dinner. Large annual events such as Baccalaureate and Take Back the Night are held in the Center, as well as academic lectures and conferences such as the 2009 Do Unto Others: A Conference on Animals and Religion.