It may have been drizzling with rain, but students who gathered at the recent opening of the new Episcopal Student Center (ESC) at the University of Maryland found a dry spot under the big oak in the front yard and celebrated the near-completion of the facility first with a barbeque, then with a Eucharist set to rock 'n' roll.
A blessing and dedication of the new center by Washington Bishop John Chane is set for 10:30 a.m. on December 10 at St. Andrew's, College Park, which sits on the Maryland campus, with a procession to the ESC.
The new ESC will be a hub of student activity, hosting lectures, discussions and fellowship at post-Eucharist suppers and social events. The Rev. Peter Antoci, University of Maryland chaplain, hopes it also will become a diocesan center for campus ministry.
And, the ESC will be home for four students living in an intentional Christian community, the first of its kind in the diocese. Private bedrooms are located upstairs, with common space and a chapel on the first floor and community space for meetings and study in the basement.
The center is a manifestation of the mission undertaken by St. Andrew's. The stone building next to the church served first as a rectory and later as student housing before the parish invested $170,000 in its transformation into the ESC. St. Paul's, Rock Creek, also contributed, donating the center's furniture.
Residents of the ESC will not only help lead Sunday evening Eucharist, they also will take the lead in community service projects, Antoci said.
"I really would hope that we can create what's known as a safe space to have conversations about religion," he added.
Residency is not restricted to Episcopalians. This year, a Presbyterian and a Methodist round out the mix.
"It's not only about Anglicanism, it's not only about Christianity, it's about the inter-religious dialogue that we need have on this campus," Antoci said.
The students themselves cite this kind of interaction as one reason they were attracted to the center. "I've always been interested in residential spiritual communities," said Kevin Fries, a second year master's student in English. "And I'm interested in people of different faiths."
Christian Pazdersky, a junior in the university's math and math-education programs, agrees, adding that he'd like to learn more about common Protestant traditions. "We do have different voices and different backgrounds," he said. "We can learn from each other."
Robert Bowman, who has just begun a master's program in English, says he wants to help bridge the "disconnect" between spirituality and typical campus life, to "see what happens when you have students who set aside time to discuss spirituality and fellowship."
Adrienne Hinds, a junior studying environmental politics and policy and geographical information systems, wanted to incorporate her involvement with St. Andrew's with her student life -- to be more than someone just passing through.
All four students, bound to become integral to parish-campus life, circulated among the parishioners and others who gathered to tour the center and mark its opening on September 4. After hotdogs and burgers, they all gathered out of the rain in the narthex and sang along to a "U2-charist," a Eucharist service that incorporates songs from Irish band U2.
Lead singer Bono is renowned for his efforts to address world poverty, and the service, presented in a Power Point format, commits its prayers and music to that end. Even the collection, gathered up in the paint buckets used to finish the interior rooms of the center, went to relief efforts in areas where people lost their homes to the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the hurricane in New Orleans.
"We thought, as we're opening our new house, we could use the proceeds to help people build their new houses," Antoci said.