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On Campus

Explore, Connect, and Grow at Kay This Year

By Raheem Dawodu Jr.

Finished picture of the Labyrinth in front of the Kay Spiritual Life Center on American University's campus.

This school year is all about new beginnings for the Kay Spiritual Life Center. The biggest change is welcoming AU’s new university chaplain, the Rev. Mark Schaefer, who was appointed after long-serving chaplain Rev. Joe Eldridge retired from this role in the spring. As the former Methodist chaplain at AU, Schaefer is a familiar face on campus and has jumped right in to planning for the year ahead.

“I am hoping that Kay can grow as a place to explore issues of moral and ethical input,” he said.

Interfaith Service

Schaefer’s work began while most students were away on summer break. This summer, there were several tragic events throughout the U.S., from Minneapolis to Orlando to Baton Rouge. Schaefer saw the AU community was affected and felt that Kay needed to do something.

“You could feel it in people's mood on campus. There was a feeling that we needed to process this somehow,“ he said.

Mark Schaefer in his office
Photo by Raheem Dawodu

“We needed a space to come together to reflect. So we put on an interfaith service of reflection and prayer. And the response we received was very affirming from those who attended.” Schaefer continued, “We also received affirmations from those who were not able to attend but appreciated that there was a space to do that.”

About 80 members of the AU community attended the Interfaith Service in July. And with that encouragement from the campus community, Schaefer decided to have a monthly Kay Interfaith Chapel Service every first Wednesday of the month.

The upcoming First Wednesday's Interfaith Chapel Service titled “Justice, Inclusion, and a Seat at the Table for Everyone” will be on Oct. 5, 12-1 p.m. It will be a time to reflect on the fracturing events on our campus and in our nation that we experienced during the past few weeks.

In planning these services, Schaefer knew this space would be needed. He said, “No matter what is going on in the world—good or bad—at that time and on that date at Kay, there will be a space to reflect and process what is taking place in the world. We are hoping that it not only helps people to process and reflect, but creates a resource for the community to know that we have this time and space to support each other with what is taking place in our lives and this country.”

These interfaith services are not just for students. “My hope is that faculty, staff and students can come together as a university community and have that time and space to reflect and process together,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer believes that Kay’s role in the community is needed even more than ever before to help heal a community fractured by racial incidents. “It’s a space where we can gather, reflect, and commit ourselves to action together.”

The Labyrinth

Along with the monthly services, Kay will also unveil a University Labyrinth on the Quad in front of Kay. The labyrinth is designed to be a path that is meditative for those who walk through it.

Labyrnith dedication
Photo by Raheem Dawodu

“Labyrinths create a space for people to just pause and reflect. There is not much else to it other than following the path, and that sort of clarity and simplicity will help you free up whatever you are struggling with, thinking about or obsessing over, which can help you reach some peace as you follow the path,” Schaefer said.

The layout of the labyrinth also parallels life, according to Schaefer. “There is some poignancy to the way it is laid out. It doubles back on itself as it weaves in and out. Following the path, you get close to the center much earlier than you anticipate, but you do not actually end up in the center. You then wind up going back out for a while. Life is similar to that—you think, ‘oh, we’re done,’ but you are not quite done, which gives you more time to process and think.”

Above all, Schaefer feels the labyrinth can spur innovative thinking for those that walk the path. “While walking the path, you don’t have to think about what words to say or what path to walk. That leaves time for inspiration and the rest of your conscious self to be creative, thoughtful and reflective.”

Join the AU community for the dedication of the University Labyrinth on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2-3 p.m.