The Abraham S. Kay Spiritual Life Center may now have a new face, but it still has the same heart it was born with in 1965. After a generous gift from Jack Kay, son of the Center’s namesake, the interfaith chapel received a fresh interior look this summer that will help it continue serving students for years to come.
In order to recognize the Kay family’s generosity and the difference it’s made at AU, the university held a rededication for the Center last Thursday. Students, staff, and faculty attended to celebrate one of campus’s most important buildings as well as the name behind it.
University chaplain Joe Eldridge took to the podium to talk about the Center’s storied history, which dates back almost 50 years, when a local Jewish philanthropist and AU’s Methodist president came together for a truly revolutionary idea.
“The partnership of Hurst Anderson and Abraham Kay captured the interfaith ethos which has given this Center its unique quality and personality,” Eldridge said to the packed pews on Thursday. “From its beginning, the Center has been a place where the entire community can gather regardless of faith for worship, fellowship, the exchange of ideas, and to both celebrate and, when needed, come together to mourn.”
Vice president of Campus Life Dr. Gail Hanson was also on hand for remarks. Speaking directly to Jack Kay, whose father tragically died just before the Center’s original dedication in 1965, Dr. Hanson detailed exactly what kind of role the structure has played for AU, its students, and the community surrounding it.
“Last year the chapel saw 850 worship services, and it was chosen for more than 30 weddings, bar and baht mitzvahs, baptisms, funerals and memorial services,” she said. “It also served as a venue for an additional 630 programs sponsored by the Kay Center, programs that invite the campus community to interfaith worship, social action, and dialogues on topics like ‘what is religion?’”
A handful of students representing the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist communities on campus relayed the difference the Center has made in their lives – each emphasizing the importance of the Chapel’s interfaith aspect.
Senior Ethan Goss – a member of AU Methodists and a Kay Center student-staff member – said, “It’s a place where one can stretch their own personal boundaries. It’s a place where a Christian can go have an Iftar meeting with a Muslim student, where a Buddhist can take part in a Shabbat service, and where a staunch atheist and a devout Hindu can get together at a Table Talk or a Human Rights Defender Series and talk about important issues in an atmosphere of mutual respect and admiration.”
Buddhist student Ariel Villano added, “Kay is a place where I am nurtured intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually…I am so thankful that my college experience has been enriched through the presence of such a supportive space.”
With faith groups represented by two dozen chaplains and open discussion forums like the Table Talk Lunch Series and the Human Rights Defender Series, the Kay Center has been a strong part of developing the inclusive, diverse community that has come to define American University.
So, as AU President Dr. Neil Kerwin noted the chapel’s now contemporary look – from new carpet and paint to a redesigned narthex – he also concluded that the chapel’s once revolutionary and still powerful message of interfaith cooperation will always endure.
“Be assured that the new face will be true to old commitments and traditions,” he said. “The Kay Spiritual Life Center will always be a touchstone in the life of this great university.”
To learn more about the Kay Center and its history as one of the country’s first interfaith chapels, click here.