A tour in words of my favourite place on campus. It was going to go on Facebook, but then it got too long.
The university likes to tell us – and everyone else – about what a diverse place it is. Let me take you on a tour of the place that, I think, is the most diverse building on campus.
It’s lunch-time when we meet near the campus centre and head east towards a building that you sort of always thought was some sort of alien space-ship that had landed by mistake and turned into a second, smaller, Rotunda.
As we approach the building, you can see a lot of people gathered on the verandah. There are barbeques out, and lovely smells, but as we get closer, you notice that the men all have little doilies on their heads – kippot – and that some of them have knotted strings hanging out from their shirt-hems – tzitziyot. It’s the Kosher lunch, and one of the rabanim nods at us as he hurries past with an armful of barbeque-cooking implements.
We head inside the nearest doors, and it’s no less busy inside. Sure, it’s not exactly the Menzies foyer at class changeover, but there are people going in all directions. You need the loo, so we head straight to the ladies’ nearby. Someone yelps as we crack the door open. “Sorry!”
It’s opened from the inside, and we squeeze through, dodging through people to get past the sinks. There are girls in every space – adjusting hijabs, washing limbs, talking – “Am I going to get through prayer before halaqa class starts?”
Escaping from the press of people in the ladies’ room, we come out into the corridor, where there are fewer people, most of them moving about purposefully. There’s probably one person standing around, looking lost. “I was told to come to the religious centre for the meeting, but where do I go now?”
After directing her to her own chaplain, we head down the curving corridor which runs alongside the main chapel. The first room we pass is a meeting-room, and there’s movement inside it, too – a prayer meeting, of one of the evangelical Pentecostal student groups. The door’s open, and we nod at them, but continue on.
At the end is the chaplain’s office, with unlikely religious props stashed in every corner, and a trolley of tea-making facilities, and a massive pile of flour along one wall for the pancake breakfast for international students in the morning.
In the middle of the room is a circle of chairs and people with Bibles in their laps, talking over them. It’s the Catholics having a Bible study, but it’s being run by a high-church Protestant girl who’s teaching them Bible verses.
This is the Religious Centre. It’s a space that’s unique in the country, and it deserves much more attention than it gets. Most students probably don’t know about it unless they’re religious – and even then, some still don’t.
There is a building on campus where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and everyone else co-exist happily… And you know how much bad blood there is – literally blood, over the last thousand years – between Catholics and Protestants, between Christians and Muslims and between Muslims and Jews.
This is a place where three chaplains can have a perfectly rational discussion about just who it is who keeps leaving the sound system in the main chapel turned on so the battery’s run down by Monday morning. It’s a Catholic, an Orthodox, and an Adventist, and you know how Adventists feel about Catholics. But no-one accuses someone else’s leader of being the Antichrist, and no-one tells anyone that they’re not a Christian because they have three extra words in the middle of the Creed.
Yes, there are differences of belief. Yes, everyone aware of that, and everyone conducts their faith lives separately. There are some good, amicable discussions of differences in theology. But everyone does their thing side-by-side, cheek-by-jowl, without argument or bloodshed. Everyone gets on with a smile, appreciating the chance they have to use this amazing space.
The university likes to tell us – and everyone else – about what a diverse place it is. If you get a chance, come and visit the most diverse place of all – a place they probably didn’t even tell you about.