This past August, two Sewanee students, Silas McClung (C ’24) and Stefen Rincon (C ’25), alongside the Interfaith House’s advisor and interfaith chaplain, Reverend Amanda Gott, attended the Interfaith America Conference in Chicago, IL. At the conference, attendees were able to meet students across the country to discuss how college campuses can best promote intersectionality and diversity in conversations about ethical and spiritual backgrounds.
Photo courtesy of Silas McClung
McClung and Rincon are both heavily-involved residents of Sewanee’s Interfaith House. This is McClung’s third year of residency at the house and Rincon is one of the house’s co-directors. The Interfaith House, one of our many theme houses on campus, is occupied by seven students, with a variety of spiritual backgrounds who hope to create safe spaces for all students to discuss spiritual topics. When asked about what initially drew them to the Interfaith House, McClung and Rincon both expressed how they resonated with the house’s advocacy for dialogue and friendship across many different demographics on campus.
“It’s all about building bridges across faith-based and ethical communities,” McClung said.
In the spring of last year, McClung hoped to advance this mission, and thus, suggested to Reverend Gott, the idea of attending the Interfaith America Conference, as to acquire new skills that he could bring back to the domain.
“I said, ‘yes you should go, and I should go with you,’” Reverend Gott said when asked about her reaction to McClung’s idea. “It was a joy for me to see students so excited to learn more about the world around them.”
McClung and Rincon were able to attend the conference, which both students attribute to the mentorship and support of Reverend Gott and University Chaplain Reverend Peter W. Gray.
At the conference, McClung and Rincon attended a number of plenary sessions, with a wide range of guest speakers, which spanned from Interfaith founder Eboo Patel, who discussed the vitality of diverse perspectives at the Interfaith Conference, to celebrity Rainn Wilson, author of Soul Boom: Why We Need A Spiritual Revolution and actor of The Office’s iconic character, Dwight Schrute.
In addition to these plenaries, each of Sewanee’s attendees enrolled into one of three specialized Interfaith training courses. McClung enrolled in “Cooking Up Interfaith Activities,” which emphasized the ideas of intersectionality through tough conversations and inspired him to hold a dialogue on campus titled “Talking Better Together.” Meanwhile, Rincon enrolled in “A Seat at the Table of Interfaith America,” which educated its participants of how interfaith work originates and grows.
Rincon stated that these training sessions have assisted him as the Interfaith House’s co-director in crucial tasks such as planning interfaith programs like the house’s “Welcome Home” event.
Rincon also noted the value of getting to meet new people from across the country at the conference.
“It’s so great getting to see interfaith work be done from all over the nation,” said Rincon. “When I see a friend I made at the conference post on social media about their school’s interfaith events, it’s a great feeling.”
Now, McClung and Rincon, alongside the rest of the Interfaith House’s residents, are determined more than ever to promote the Interfaith House’s mission of inclusive faith-based discussion.
In terms of next steps for Sewanee’s interfaith work, McClung and Rincon express that the best way to advance their mission is for students to bring their friends to interfaith events.
“[This work] starts on the smallest scale,” Rincon said, going on to state that the best way to change perspectives is through personal experience.
Photo courtesy of Stefen Rincon
Additionally, Reverend Gott expresses that sending more students every year to the Interfaith America Conference will only allow for interfaith to grow stronger on campus, and thus, foster more intersectional discussions on spirituality.
As Sewanee continues to create a student body composed of more and more diverse perspectives, programs like interfaith prove to be essential for Sewanee. It is the hope of Sewanee’s Interfaith House and Sewanee’s chaplaincy that interfaith, through opportunities like Interfaith America, can continue to grow and cultivate meaningful discussions.
“All Saints’ Chapel and its chaplaincy,” Reverend Gott said, “is deeply committed to making sure all students, whatever spiritual or ethical identity, are able to nurture that part of their lives. Interfaith helps us do that.”