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Sykes Chapel: A Symbol of Interfaith and Unity

Julia Albini/The Minaret

By SARA CASARETO

Many students on campus have one thing in common — spirituality. Be it Christianity or secularism, Sykes Chapel is a beacon on campus that symbolizes a safe place for expression to many students. Located in the heart of campus, Sykes Chapel was designed specifically to meet certain goals architecturally as well as literally.

The building was designed with the organ in mind, providing for perfect acoustics and the integration of a one-of-a-kind organ. The current organist, Ryan Hebert, teaches student organ majors how to play the pipe organ in the chapel. The design of the building’s exterior is that of two praying hands, with the chapel being the protected space in between. The stainless steel was meant to reflect the minarets of Plant Hall and the brick is meant to match the rest of the campus’s architecture.

“Sykes Chapel was built because President Vaughn had seen studies that found that the best kind of student is a well-rounded student, not just a person who has gone about the academic route, but one who has also taken into consideration the whole mind-body-spirit aspects,” said Lisa Ryan, staff assistant in Wellness Services.

As part of the university’s plans since 1996, Sykes Chapel was completed in December 2010 with the intent to build character, assist in spiritual development, and enable students to understand world religions and cultures.

One of the main spiritual groups that has utilized the chapel is an organization called Better Together. Better Together is a campaign that was founded by Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) in order to promote dialogue on campus between cultures and religions. IFYC is a Chicago-based organization that is a leader in the concept of interfaith dialogue and cooperation, connecting and understanding various world belief systems, and has been working closely with the university to promote what the chapel stands for: growing in one’s own faith and learning about others. With the resource team they have organized weekend retreats, interfaith services and spiritual book clubs.

“I specifically use the chapel for my meetings, which are every other Monday,” said Ioana Zanchi, a junior political science and philosophy major and president of Better Together. “It is a peaceful setting and it provides a place of comfort as we are holding these sometimes intimate and personal conversations.”

The Wellness Center prints out monthly calendars and posts up-to-date schedules on ut.edu/spiritual that detail all of the events being supported by the resource team that month, from Rosh Hashanah services to Pagan Student Organization meetings. There are also concert series hosted in the chapel. Information can be found on Facebook by typing in Sykes Chapel Concert Series into the search bar.

The hours for the chapel can be found online, but the doors are unlocked from 8 a.m. to midnight and the meditation garden is always open. Students are able to enjoy the meditation garden and the chapel at their discretion whether for reflection, prayer or other quiet activities.

“I like going to the garden; there’s not many people around, which leaves me to myself. It’s very calming,” said Benjamin Eggert, a freshman with an undecided major.

Ryan and the entire Wellness Resource Team work closely with Better Together and other spiritual groups to facilitate their use of Sykes Chapel. The student usage of the chapel has increased over her past four years at UT, according to Ryan. They are still, however, pushing to promote awareness and further usage of the space. Any student wishing to reserve a space in Sykes for their organization can email the Wellness Center at wellness@ut.edu.

“There was the impression when things got started that it was a difficult place to access as far as utilization,” Ryan said. “But over the past few years I’ve been trying to help and be like ‘How can I accommodate you? Let me accommodate you so that this can become your place to grow spiritually.’”

Sara Casareto can be reached at sara.casareto@spartans.ut.edu.

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