Hidden away between the dorms of Middle Earth and the multitude of engineering classroom buildings, there lies the spiritual haven of the University Interfaith Center. Interfaith, which was established in 1965 with the goal of providing a campus ministry to UC Irvine students, currently offers religious services to over 2,000 people per week.
‘The center serves as a meeting place for 80 percent of the registered religious organizations on campus,’ said Nancy Jenks, executive director of UCI’s Interfaith Foundation.
Jenks has been the director of Interfaith for the past 27 years and has both contributed to and experienced the growth of the foundation.
The foundation represents a variety of faiths, from Christianity and Islam to Baha’i and Judaism, and offers 17 different religious services weekly.
Students, however, are not only attracted to Interfaith for religious purposes, but also seek solace in the center’s welcoming and friendly environment.
‘After getting involved in various Catholic youth groups my freshman year, Interfaith has become a second home for me,’ said president of Interfaith and fourth-year biology major Eileen Surya.
There are thousands of Anteaters who share these same sentiments.
According to Jenks, the center has something for everyone.
‘Interfaith is open for all types of students and many consider the center a home away from home,’ Jenks said.
As the holiday season quickly approaches, the Interfaith community has many things to be thankful for and different events to look forward to.
To celebrate the season, Jenks and Surya coordinated an annual Thanksgiving prayer service on Nov. 25. The service, which began at 5 p.m., was followed by refreshments and a discussion.
According to Jenks, the prayer was characteristic of the center in that it catered to many students.
‘The single service catered to 11 different religious faiths,’ Jenks said.
Jenks was pleased with the result of this year’s service and felt that all individuals, both spiritual and non-spiritual, would have been able to benefit from it.
‘The Thanksgiving prayer service was a smashing success and should not have been missed by anyone,’ Jenks said. ‘It was such an awesome experience to be in that room and witness Jews, Muslims, Bahai`s, Buddhists, and all the different flavors of Christians giving thanks in their own tradition and to their own God, and showing love and understanding to each other, all with hearts filled with joy. Everyone stayed and ate together and really didn`t even want to leave. We have much to be thankful for.’
One of the faiths that were represented was that of the Episcopal ministry, which since mid-October has been led by the newly-appointed Reverend Vincent Shamo.
Born in Ghana, Shamo began seminary training in the country and eventually went on to study in England. He continued his education at UC Berkeley and has earned a Masters of Divinity in 2002 and a Masters of Arts in 2003.
‘I think that having been through college myself and knowing what college life is like, [I know] that students need a sense of a support group,’ Shamo said. ‘Students also need to hear what others have to say as they search for meaning and understanding in their lives. I think that the campus ministry does a lot to support that process.’
Shamo’s presence in the Interfaith Center is a blessing for Episcopalian students searching for spiritual direction and counseling. He has made himself available for individual meetings and bible studies throughout the week and is hoping to start conducting services for those interested in the Episcopal ministry soon.
As the Episcopalian chaplain, Shamo wants to continue promoting Interfaith’s common mission of understanding other religions and building religious tolerance on campus.
In doing so, Shamo also participates in Interfaith’s weekly lunches, which are held on Thursdays at 12:30 p.m. at the center.
The entire campus community is invited to attend the free event hosted by Jenks, and students from all different religious backgrounds usually take advantage of the tradition.
Jenks always expects large turnouts for the weekly meals and is always excited to see students from different faiths gathering together around a single table.
‘This year we will be having a holiday lunch on Dec. 4 to celebrate the season before we break for winter,’ Jenks said.
Interfaith has also organized a Thanksgiving and Christmas food drive and other outreach activities for the holiday season, though they provide different kinds of outreach programs all year long.
The center, which is simply a hidden bungalow on the outskirts of Ring Road, is home to a place where people get a chance to sit at meals together regardless of faith and tradition, with the simple goal of commemorating life, which many believe is faith’s true aim.
What better way to celebrate the holiday season?
For more information on the Interfaith Center or how to participate in Interfaith programs, contact Nancy Jenks at (949) 856-0211.