The warmth emanating from the Interfaith House on Allen Place on the evening of January 23, 2014, couldn’t have presented a starker contrast to the bitter cold raging outside. Heartfelt accolades and remembrances 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, simply, The Charleston.
There were complimentary remarks galore–from College Chaplain Allison Read; Erica Bertoli ’14, president of the Interfaith House; Todd Ryan, associate professor of philosophy and faculty adviser; and Doris Kammradt, head librarian, collections, at the Raether Center. Charleston himself told the gathering that the honor “took his breath away.”
The facility, which once served as the residence for Charleston and his family during his tenure as chaplain, will be used as a center of study, research, and dialogue about world religions. Read said the 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.”
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 career, as are pluralism and economic and social justice. Admirers say Charleston, 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 Charleston was ordained at Wakpala, South Dakota, 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 in St. Paul, Minnesota; the Episcopal bishop of Alaska; and the president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He now teaches at the Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University and is the author of Cloud Walking, Hope as Old as Fire, and The Bishop of Mars.
In his 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,” he said. “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.”
This year, Bertoli said, 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 topics such as service, justice, and gratitude.
Students also are engaged in a project involving food security. Working with Trinity’s Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement, students are providing 25 low-income Hartford children with food for the weekends. A 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 services to people in need.