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5 days ago

Christian fellowship moves off-campus to house on Harpswell Road

The Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin—formerly called the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF), which is no longer officially recognized by the College—recently celebrated the opening of the Joseph and Alice McKeen Christian Study Center at 65 Harpswell Road. The center is off campus but located near Farley Field House, and will serve as the venue for the fellowship to conduct bible studies, engage in weekly group discussions, and host guest speakers.

The space is named after Joseph and Alice McKeen—Bowdoin’s first president and his wife. According to Rob Gregory, one of the volunteer leaders of the group, McKeen worked to spread the gospel to Bowdoin students, and the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin aims to follow in his footsteps.

An open house was held at the center on September 27 and featured Owen Strachan ’03 as a keynote speaker. Other alumni of the fellowship travelled to Brunswick to attend the event.

The Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin acquired the off-campus property because it is no longer an officially recognized group at the College and therefore does not have the ability to book regular meetings in on-campus spaces. The fellowship had previously used the Chapel, Daggett Lounge, and 30 College Street for bible studies and other gatherings.

Bob Ives, director of religious and spiritual life, said that even though the fellowship is not an organized religious group at Bowdoin, it can still meet on campus—the spaces are just more difficult to reserve because College-affiliated groups receive preference. Ives said that he has offered 30 College Street for the group’s use and would like the fellowship to continue to contribute to spiritual life at the College.

At the end of last year, the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin chose not to recharter with Bowdoin Student Government (BSG), following a series of events that began in the spring. In February, the fellowship’s advisors—Rob and Sim Gregory—refused to sign the College’s Volunteer Agreement. The agreement contained a non-discrimination policy that they felt they could not sign due to religious convictions, specifically the Christian gospel’s interpretation of homosexuality.

After the Gregorys, who had been heavily involved with BCF for almost a decade, declined to sign the agreement, the fellowship was given two options—it could either recharter as a College-recognized organization and select new advisors who complied with the Volunteer Agreement or choose not to recharter and keep the Gregorys as advisors. Last year’s BSG Student Organization Oversight Committee (SOOC) chair Danny Mejia-Cruz ’16 and the Office of Student Activities worked with students in the fellowship to find a new advisor if they were interested in re-chartering, but the group decided it would rather keep the Gregorys as advisors. Harriet Fisher ’17, this year’s SOOC chair, said she has not received any interest from the fellowship in rechartering the group this year.

The new house

The house on Harpswell Road was purchased on April 14, 2014 for $250,000. Gregory declined to comment on where the finances to purchase the property came from, but it is listed along with the name Kirk DiVietro in Brunswick Real Estate tax documents. It is unclear whether DiVietro has a connection to the Gregorys or to the College. When the Gregorys acquired the building—a colonial-style house built in 1900—it needed “considerable repairs,” said Gregory. Ryan Ward ’17, one of the leaders of the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin, said that he believed at one point the building had been condemned.

With the help of other volunteers, the Gregorys worked many hours over the summer to restore the building so that it could be used by the fellowship at the beginning of the academic year. They also hired contractors to do some more extensive repairs.

“We put the time and effort and resources into making sure that it was fit for the purpose for which it had been set apart,” said Gregory. “And that was to do this kind of work for students who want to learn about the scriptures and study the scriptures on a location near the Bowdoin campus.”

The Christian Study Center consists of two units—the main house in the front and an apartment unit in the back. Altogether the center has five rooms, with an estimated housing capacity of five people. Ward said that although the fellowship is just using the space for bible studies, discussion groups, and speaker events right now, he eventually hopes residents will live in the house.

“Whether it’s a young couple who’s staying there to kind of see if things are working for students, or [students themselves], that’s the plan for the future,” said Ward.

Club chartering at Bowdoin

Although the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin is no longer officially recognized by the College, its role in the Bowdoin community has remained fairly consistent with previous years.

“We still meet for bible studies; we still have other gatherings on Thursday nights,” said Ward. “We pretty much have done what we’ve always been doing, we’ve just shifed it over to this new space.”

“I don’t want to make it look like we’re separating ourselves from the campus because we’re definitely not,” he added. “But we also don’t want to entangle ourselves too much in the operation of the College.”

Some of the group’s responsibilities have changed, though. In the past, BCF selected speakers and organized programs in the College’s chapel, according to Ward. Now, Ives and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life is responsible for running the chapel.

Ives hopes to keep the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin active in campus religious life.

“Even though they’re not a formal, organized group through BSG, they are a religious group so I invite them to the [Bowdoin] Interfaith Council,” said Ives. “I certainly want to make sure that they are acknowledged.”

The Interfaith Council is made up of the eight religious groups on Bowdoin’s campus. Its first meeting of the year will take place on October 22. Ives has not received a response from the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin about whether they will participate this year and Ward and Gregory both declined to comment on the group’s plans.

“It’s still in discussion,” said Ward.

New group part of a consortium The Joseph and Alice McKeen Christian Study Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit that operates on grants, membership fees and donations, according to its website.

The fellowship is still connected to the national InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group, but with the acquisition of the physical Christian Study Center, it has also become a member of the Consortium of Christian Studies Centers. This consortium is independent from Inter-Varsity. Altogether, the consortium consists of over 15 established study centers throughout the country.

Many of the centers in the consortium are located in college towns and serve the students of the nearby colleges and universities in an unofficial way.

For instance, the Erasmus Institute at the Five Colleges in Amherst, Mass. is an established center in the Consortium of Christian Studies Centers that is unofficially tied to Amherst. Other established centers in the consortium include the Chesterton House, a Christian studies center at Cornell, and the Rivendell Institute at Yale.

Ives noted that Christian study centers are becoming increasingly popular around colleges and universities across the nation.

“Some of the leaders of InterVarsity have shared that they really don’t like to do this because they want to be on the college campuses—that’s their tradition,” he said.“But this is with a lot of changing mores and morality of different college campuses and their very vigorous feeling of faith about preserving the nature of marriage from their particular perspective.” 

Positive Attitudes

Despite the changes the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin has undergone in the past nine months, the group seems to be happy with how things are going now.

“The changed venue really isn’t an issue for gospel work—it never has been,” said Gregory. “The work of Christian ministry isn’t dependent on one place, and while we enjoyed the seven or eight years we had to preach the gospel in the chapel on Bowdoin's campus, we’ll preach the same message wherever we have an opportunity to do it.”

“We’re really grateful that we’re able to continue to do the InterVarsity work in a place that’s convenient to the students,” he added. “That was important to them and it’s important to us.”

Ward expressed similar feelings of gratitude and a certainty that relations with the College will be nothing but cordial in the future. 

“So far I’m very pleased with how things have gone,” he said. “We don’t feel as though we’ve been pushed against our will to do this. This has been something that we think, from our perspective, is God’s will, and for the better in bringing the gospel which is essentially what our mission is and what we hope to do more of as we figure out how we’re going to use this space.”

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