Tucked away in a corner of the Stony Brook University Student Union building, where cracks in the open doors of a small hallway reveal the interfaith community in a subtle richness, a community soon to be moving from the Union once it closes.
One open door lets gusts of wind, soft piano music and psalms drift down the hall from the interfaith chapel. Another door displays sights of young people sitting on the floor, hovering over notebooks, and laughing inside the Catholic chapel while just down the hall Reverend Zhe Huang can be seen advising young students from his office. Like a community layered on top of the larger Stony Brook constituency, the Union Interfaith Center is tight enough that they are their own fusion of faith.
Like the now yellowed and faded construction plan pamphlet published in 1966 for the Union construction says, the building was built to house the cultural needs of the religious members of Stony Brook University, and was “designed to meet the cultural, recreational and social needs of the students.”
The original plan was for all of the organizations housed in the Union to be out by the beginning of January 2016. The plan has changed because new dorms on Toll Drive are still incomplete. The goal now will be to move all of the organizations, except for the food vendors, out of the Union by summer 2016, Director of Facilities Operations Howard Gunston said.
The lack of news about specifics for the move away from the Union made speculation scarce. The chair of the interfaith center, Rabbi Joseph Topek, declined to comment.
“Until we know where we’re going, when, how, I don’t feel like I can talk about it,” Topek said.
When asked how people come to know about the Interfaith Center, Catholic Campus Minister Joanne Buonocore laughed.
“Most of them don’t even know where we are now,” she said, then laughed again. “Going to a new
location might help us, might give us different visibility.”
If the interfaith community is worried about anything it is whether or not they will they still have the same religious sites on campus that are necessary for their practice when they move.
“They know we can still have mass downstairs until the end of [the] spring semester, so I’m glad about that. All of our stuff is in this building. They’ve been here since this building went up,” Buonocore said. “That’s what they’re promising us. We have at least 100 people every Sunday, and we need to accommodate that.”
Gunston said that they do not currently know where the interfaith clubs will be located. As compared to the other organizations which are moving out of the Union, the Interfaith clubs will be in temporary residences and will eventually be moved back. “The interfaith center, though, as kindof sophisticated as it is to move it, it is moving back into the Union, because it really fits into the spirit of the building. We’ve been designing a new wing of the building with them in mind,” Gunston said.
For the Islamic students, there are several necessary facilities they require to even pray. “We need something as closely similar as possible to what we have now,” Omama Ali, a member of the Muslim Student Association at SBU, said.
For their prayers, the Muslim students require a washing station in the bathrooms in order to wash before prayer. The students currently do not know if any of this will be provided in the new faith based spaces, but it is necessary to practice their religion, Ali said.
“Once we have the space identified, then we’ll be meeting with each of the individual chaplains so we can identify what they need. Once we can start talking about them, we can make all the chaplains as comfortable as possible with the move,” Gunston said.
The Interfaith community has grown close in the several decades it has been together. They conduct interfaith projects such as an interfaith dinner around Thanksgiving, and they have weekly meetings.
“It’s a nice strong community,” Ali said.
“We work on projects together, we keep in touch. It’s helpful for us to be together in the same place,” Buonocore said. “We don’t even know if during this temporary construction, which could last several years, if we will still be in the same place together, we don’t know if we’ll be scattered across campus.”
Gunston said that the interfaith community will be kept together after the move.