HARTFORD, CT, January 24, 2014 – The warmth emanating from the Interfaith House on Allen Place Thursday evening couldn’t have presented a starker contrast to the bitter cold raging outside. Heartfelt accolades and remembrances – from students, faculty and staff – poured forth as the College’s gathering place for spiritual life was dedicated in honor of the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, who graduated from Trinity in 1971, received an honorary degree in 1992 and served as College Chaplain from 1996 to 1999.
Henceforth, the building at 155 Allen Place will be known as The Charleston House of Interfaith Cooperation or, in shorthand, The Charleston. College Chaplain Allison Read, who served as host for the festivities, humorously noted that, upon hearing who the Interfaith House was being named after, a colleague quipped: “Oh good. We’re getting a bishop and a dance.”
Alas, there was no dancing, but there were complimentary remarks galore – from Read; Erica Bertoli ’14, president of the Interfaith House; Todd Ryan, associate professor of philosophy and faculty adviser; Doris Kammradt, head librarian, collections, at the Raether Library; and Charleston, who told the gathering that the honor “took his breath away.” His name will be on a sign affixed to the outside of the house, and a plaque denoting his life and accomplishments will be hung inside the building.
The facility, which once served as the residence for Charleston and his family during his tenure as chaplain and which has been spruced up in recent years, will be used as a center of study, research and dialogue among world religions. Although the house has been underutilized at times in recent years, Read said that due to the hard work of the campus community, Thursday’s dedication marked a “renewed mission [for the house] as a vital gathering space for students, faculty, and staff to meet, reflect, engage, and work together for the common good… Our students have pushed for a mission of hospitality and openness matched only by the encouragement, support, and participation of our friends on the faculty and staff.”
Indeed, the words “common good, common values and common concern” were the themes of the evening given that they are among the hallmarks of Charleston’s long and distinguished career, as are pluralism, and economic and social justice. Admirers say Charleston, who is known for combining his native American spirituality with the teachings of the Episcopal Church, is able to articulate experiences in ways that are compassionate, merciful and even challenging.
“He has something extremely rare,” said Ryan. “While remaining grounded to the beliefs of his church, he has an openness to people of all faiths and of no faith.”
A citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Charleston comes from a family with a long history of service to the Native-American community. His great-grandfather and grandfather were ordained pastors, and following in their footsteps, Charleston was ordained at Wakpala, SD, on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
He has been the national director for Native-American ministries in the Episcopal Church; a tenured professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary; the bishop of Alaska; and the president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. He currently teaches at the Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University.
In his brief remarks, Charleston said he was grateful and humbled by the naming of the house in his honor. “Do I deserve this plaque? We all deserve this plaque,” said Charleston. “That’s the only way that we can make pluralism happen…We are all part of a continuous journey of exploration and to do it right, we must be arm-in-arm with each other.”
In addition to detailing Charleston’s biography, the plaque – which was read aloud by Ryan -- calls Charleston “a spiritual leader whose life and work exemplify the values of openness, justice, and pluralism that this house seeks to promote.” The plaque ends with this plea: “May Steven Charleston’s life inspire new generations of Trinity students to lead with courage, strength, and hope, and may a legacy of inquiry, spiritual reflection, and just action grow this place.”
In discussing the rebirth of the facility, Bertoli noted that “the interfaith house invites people from all religious and nonreligious backgrounds into shared conversation in which all voices are welcome and through which we engage in relationship with one another, identify common values, and work together toward the common good…It is especially important to us that all religious and nonreligious perspectives be included around our table and that we share in taking action in the world.”
This year in particular, Bertoli said, the students have embraced two programs. The first is a series of dinners, “Eat, Drink and Be Holy,” that bring together faculty, staff and students to share reflections on such topics as service, justice and gratitude.
The students also are engaged in a project involving food security. Working with Trinity’s Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement, the students are providing 25 low-income Hartford schoolchildren with food for the weekends. An upstairs room in the Interfaith House is used to store the food and fill backpacks that are then distributed through Hands On Hartford, a nonprofit organization that provides direct services to people in need by promoting civic engagement and volunteerism.
The final act of the evening was the presentation to Kammradt of signed copies of three books that Charleston has authored: Cloud Walking, Hope as Old as Fire, and The Bishop of Mars. The books will become part of the Raether Library collection.
The works were published by Red Moon Publications, which was founded in 2011 at the request of a growing number of people who felt inspired by the writings of Charleston. As Charleston began posting his meditations on Facebook, more and more people read them and eventually they asked for a collection of the meditations in book form. In response, Red Moon Publications came into being.
Today more than 4,000 people read Charleston’s daily meditation and Red Moon publishes not only his work, but the writings of other authors who offer “wisdom, insight, and challenge to help every person who follows a spiritual path.”
Photos by Richard Bergen.