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Congregation Crawl offers opportunities to explore different faiths

September 8, 2023

This year, the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life began its new series, the Congregation Crawl, consisting of four visits to different congregations in an attempt to introduce the Bowdoin community to different spiritual identities and highlight the diverse religious traditions many students may not know exist in Midcoast Maine.

Over the course of the fall semester, participants will visit St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick, the Northern Light Zen Center and the Beth Israel Congregation.

Interfaith fellow Emma Mazlish ’26 explained how the Congregation Crawl is attempting to change the perception that religion does not play an active role in Bowdoin’s student life.

“I think that there’s this perception at Bowdoin that religion doesn’t really exist—or the youth are not so interested in religion or just engaging with spirituality in any sense. But I think what we’re trying to highlight with this program is that religion and religious diversity very much does exist both within Bowdoin and in the greater midcoast area,” Mazlish said.

The Rachel Lord Center previously helped support students who wanted to attend local congregations, but those visits were typically just one group of one faith visiting a single congregation. Now, the center hopes to expand its offerings.

“It’s truly meant to be for all students,” Oliver Goodrich, director of the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, said. “It’s important to say this is not meant to be a proselytizing tool. We have a really broad smattering of religious identities on campus. I hope students who have never been to a mosque or to a temple or synagogue or to a church get a chance to experience that for the first time. And I think in that spirit, I’m also hopeful that this will be a program that builds a little religious literacy or helps to make religion feel less inaccessible to people.”

One hope of the Congregation Crawl is that it can introduce students to religion and help broaden the sense of community through the local area regardless of their religious affiliation or knowledge.

“I also think that one of the driving factors among the disaffiliation is that many people don’t trust leadership…. Government and politicians, industry leaders, religious leaders, there’s sort of a crisis of trust right now in the US,” Goodrich said. “If anything, I think that bringing people into congregations where we can deepen a context of relationship and get to know our neighbors has the potential to build trust.”

Mazilsh believes the Congregation Crawl will not only introduce students to unfamiliar worldviews but will emphasize the importance of accepting ideas and traditions that are not synonymous with their own.

“It’s exciting to bring together people who have pretty disparate perspectives [and] pretty different religious traditions,” Mazlish said. “I think it’s important for people to have consciousness and competency with traditions that are not their own. I think that’s really important for us as a student body, [and] I think it’s important for us as a country, frankly.”

The Congregation Crawl begins this Sunday at 10 a.m. Students will meet at the polar bear statue and head to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.


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