Religious diversity occupies conversation at Trustee Porch Discussion


Joan Brown Campbell and Maureen Rovegno, director and assistant director, respectively, of the Department of Religion, address attendees of Wednesday’s Trustee Porch Discussion at the Hultquist Center. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the Department of Religion, kept the conversation to interfaith dialogue within the strategic plan at Wednesday’s Trustee Porch Discussion.

The discussion, titled “Chautauqua as an Interfaith Community,” was held at Hultquist Center Porch at 9:30 a.m. and is a weekly event, with each week focusing on a different topic surrounding the Institution’s operations.

Campbell and Maureen Rovegno, assistant director of the Department of Religion, asked the coordinators from the Abrahamic Program for Young Adults to attend.

Rovegno introduced the four APYA coordinators — one of Jewish faith, one of Christian faith and two from the Muslim faith. They are the “anchor” of interfaith dialogue at Chautauqua, Campbell said.

Rovegno agreed.

“They have added value to the season for so many people in so many ways, I could not begin to tell you,” she said. “But they really do model what we are trying to teach here.”

Campbell referenced the strategic plan, which the Institution adopted in 2010. The plan spans to 2018 and lays out improvements and goals for each part of Chautauqua.

Interfaith dialogue holds two objectives within the strategic plan. Campbell said the first is to remain true to the Institution’s Christian origins. The Sunday-morning service, which hosts a renowned minister each week, will remain, as will the daily devotional hour held each weekday.

She said there was a brief discussion on moving the weekday service to a smaller venue, but Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, reminded her why it should stay put.

“He said from the very beginning, this service was always at the Amphitheater because it was meant to be at the center of the community’s life,” Campbell said.

The second objective is to examine Chautauqua’s interfaith role in the world at large. The U.S. is undoubtedly the most religiously diverse nation, Campbell said, and the religious tolerance experienced here is not something to be taken for granted.

“In many ways, it’s perhaps our least appreciated freedom — that people can have the religion of their choice,” she said.

When the Rev. Dr. Ross MacKenzie, former director of the Department of Religion, created an Abrahamic community here 12 years ago, he did it purposefully, Campbell said. He began to look at the 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture Series as a way to allow all religions a platform at Chautauqua. This community should intentionally, not accidentally, be a place that welcomes all faiths, Campbell said.

But she also wants to expand beyond the Abrahamic faiths.

“It becomes clear to us that in order to talk about being an interfaith community, we have to move out and deal with the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Baháis,” she said, adding that it’s important these faiths are represented not only by lecturers but also by Chautauqua residents.

Other faiths should feel welcome to live here, she said.

“This really is the vision within the strategic plan — that we would work to become known as a community faithful to our Christian heritage and open to being an interfaith community where we would be a witness to a wider world,” she said.

Campbell, Rovegno and the APYA coordinators then took turns answering questions, which mostly were focused on the APYA program.

Rovegno explained that they wanted to create something specifically for young adults, ages 16 to 22, to fill a deep void.

Eboo Patel, a member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, told the Institution administration at a 2005 London conference that engaging young people in interfaith conversations is as important as anything.

“(Patel) said to us you can do all the interfaith work you want, but if you don’t address the young people, teach the young people, work with the young people, you will be spinning your wheels,” Rovegno said.

So they established APYA in 2006, with a Foundation grant supporting the coordinators as they stay on the grounds.

Campbell also mentioned the honesty that lives within APYA. The coordinators aren’t afraid to disagree, and she said that’s a crucial part of an interfaith community.

“I’ve always believed that the only way we will ever get there is not just by being pleasant, but it is by telling truth to one another and really listening,” Campbell said.