Bob Ives ’69, the founder and director of The Carpenter’s Boat Shop in Pemaquid, Maine for 33 years, officially assumed his position as the College’s first Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Monday when he gave the benediction at a chapel ceremony commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.

Director of Student Life Allen Delong announced the appointment of Ives in a campus-wide email on January 17. 

 “Bob will work closely with the religious and faith-based student-organizations, with individuals of any faith or spiritual tradition, and those who wish to reflect on their spiritual life in a safe environment.” Delong wrote.

Ives has a Masters of Divinity from the University of Edinburgh and has served as the minister of a number of small churches in Maine. He also founded and directed The Carpenter’s Boat Shop, a nonprofit boat-building organization for individuals who are in various states of transition in their lives.

Coral Sandler ’12, who proposed the creation of a Director of Religious and Spiritual Life with Jennifer Wenz ’12 last spring, said she hopes Ives will build a “safe welcoming community around the diverse group of students who are here” and “really create more of a spiritual center or home on campus.”

The establishment of Ives’ position coincides with an ongoing discussion in the media about the rise of atheism among American youth. National Public Radio (NPR) recently broadcast a series called “Losing Our Religion” on the declining numbers of Americans who are religiously affiliated. One-fifth of all Americans and a third of young Americans say they don’t belong to any religion, NPR reported. 

Sandler said that she grappled with questions concerning her own spirituality when she first came to Bowdoin.

Although there are a multitude of religious groups on campus—including Bowdoin Hillel, Bowdoin Christian Fellowship, the Muslim Students Association and the Catholics Student Union—the College lacked someone who would facilitate among these organizations and serve as a resource for students who had questions about their religious and spiritual beliefs, said Sandler.

“When I first got here I was starting to explore some of these sort of bigger spiritual questions in my life. What do I believe in?” she said. “The summer after my sophomore year I realized that I really felt a little alone in my quest at Bowdoin...There were different religious groups but there wasn’t space for students…making spiritual questions.”

Last spring, Sandler raised her concerns in a letter she and Wenz wrote to President Barry Mills. 

“There’s been a sense of there being a taboo around spiritual and religious life at Bowdoin,” said Sandler. “Another thing we wrote in the letter is that students are [either] outliers in their spiritual life, or were in the [campus] mainstream and put their spiritual life on hold because it was taboo. And that’s not celebrating their diversity.”

When Sandler and Wenz met with Mills, he gave them an assignment.

“He said now I want you to go and bring back this group of students who represent this diversity that you speak of at Bowdoin and research what other NESCAC schools have…and with the results of that research tell me what you think would work here and what wouldn’t,” said Sandler.

“We got this group of students and we had two meetings [with Mills] and it was in the middle of finals last spring and everyone made it,” she said. “It was so incredible for all these Bowdoin students to say, yeah I’m going to prioritize this right now. It was so gratifying.”

Allen Delong, director of student life, said Sandler’s proposal demonstrated that the College’s system of spiritual and religious support at Bowdoin was “too tenuous.” Although faculty and staff were “generously advising students, spending time with students around questions of faith or perhaps on spiritual journeys…these people had other full-time jobs,” he explained.

“I think that what I envision is a person who is identified for students to whom they can go to think about questions of faith,” Delong added. “One of the really exciting things about Bob’s interview is that he talked about spiritual journeys, and how often students come to campus and it’s the first time they’re outside of their spiritual communities. And they may experience some type of conflict with a roommate of a different faith or who may have beliefs that contradict that student’s faith.”

According to Delong, Ives’ background as a minister, schoolteacher, lobsterman and director of The Carpenter’s Boat Shop makes him particularly well-suited to answer questions students may have. 

“For me, personally, Bob is so thoughtful in a way that really suggests he’s had all these different positions…and that he has approached each one from a spiritual perspective,” Delong said.

The fifth generation in his family to attend Bowdoin, Ives said he hopes to help “charter the course of life for others here on campus” in the same way Bowdoin did for him. Shortly before Ives began his first year of college, his parents passed away. 

“They had died during my junior year of high school, and so Bowdoin met so many kinds of needs personally and socially, and it was just a great foundation and grounding for my personal development in life,” Ives explained.

Ives said he envisions his new role as fourfold: he will act as a coordinator among students of different faith groups, a liaison between students and faith groups throughout Maine, a counselor for individual students, and a chaplain or minister who is able to address the difficulties that the Bowdoin community might experience.

“Probably 70 percent of my time will be spent with individual students,” said Ives. “When students come here, a lot of students come with all feelings about religious traditions. Some are very enthusiastic, some are deeply hurt…I think I’m here to simply talk with people…to help them find their way and to nurture them at whatever point of faith they are at this point.”

While Ives is from a Quaker background, he said he wants to reach out to students of all different faiths.

“I think as the director of religious and spiritual life I don’t have any desire to be ministering to one faith, but all faiths. I work to celebrate the diversity of religion on the Bowdoin campus and the religious lives of all students,” he said.

Melanie Gaynes ’13, president of Bowdoin Hillel, interviewed Ives last fall and said she was impressed by his experience working with young people. She said she hopes Ives focuses on promoting interfaith dialogue on campus.

“One of the things that I’m excited about is having somebody to help the different groups of faith work together more fluidly,” said Gaynes. “I think that everybody gets wrapped up in their own group and their own needs and we don’t always look for who else we could be working with. I think that Bob Ives is able to help us to think about how we can work together and think about what kind of programs we can do.”

For now, Ives said he is going to take his new role one day at a time. “I’m a little leery of putting forward too much,” he explained. “I’m going to try to see where the students are really working, see what they’re thinking, and then begin to put together things that are really helpful and meaningful and purposeful.”