Gomes Chapel Reopens, Continues to Provide Space for Meaningful Connection

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Dieter Villegas/The Bates Student

“As you step into [Gomes Chapel], you feel the presence of that history and a connection to all the Batesies who have filled the space.” – Reverend Raymond Cloutier

Sacha Feldberg

Last month, on a warm and beautiful Sept. 2, the Peter J. Gomes Chapel reopened with a small in-person gathering of around 15 people. Multifaith Chaplains Brittany Longsdorf and Raymond Cloutier were present, in addition to Multifaith fellows Yueh Qi Chuah ‘22 and Austin Dumont ‘21. President Clayton Spencer was also in attendance. 

Due to the pandemic, this event was not open to the public. The chapel has been closed since the spring of 2019 and many students and faculty members will be pleased to find that it has reopened. 

Some important construction changes were made to the chapel since its closing. As was noted in a campus construction update on June 26, the first accessible restroom was added and the chapel’s stained glass windows were restored. Reverend Dr. Brittany Longsdorf said she is happy about these changes and excited that the chapel has reopened. 

“Even though Gomes chapel has only been out of operation for a short while, it felt important to mark the moment of re-opening and offer blessings for the space and all who would come to use [the chapel],” Longsdorf said. “It was lovely to hear readings and blessings from different religious and spiritual traditions as well as excerpts from some of Peter Gomes’ sermons as we honored that moment of renewal.”

That feeling of renewal and peace is unique to the environment of the chapel. Even though the pandemic has changed many aspects about life on campus, it has not changed the ways in which people experience this space.

“The chapel is one of the few places on campus that feels much like it did 100 years ago,” Reverend Raymond Cloutier said. “As you step into the [chapel], you feel the presence of that history and a connection to all the Batesies who have filled the space. The space reflects the religious mentality of another time — pews facing a pulpit — but the founders were forward-thinking in their inclusion of academic as well as religious symbolism, and the space has aged well into a quieter stage of life.”

With the chaos of the module system, finding a quiet space like this to wind down has been more critical than ever before. According to Chuah, the chapel is supposed to be a safe space for people to share thoughts that they normally would not, allowing them to connect with their spiritual selves and explore their identities. 

Chuah is a fellow who is in charge of Interfaith Engagement and running Telescope meetings. Interfaith Engagement fellows focus their efforts toward campus interfaith dialogue, programming, and events. Telescope is a student-led group and hosts conversations about home, history, heart, and hope. 

In the past, Telescope held meetings biweekly for six weeks per semester. As a result of the pandemic, the group now meets weekly four times per module. There are remote and in-person options available.

The module system has affected students’ abilities to come to the chapel, according to Chuah.

“For a cohort like mine, we ask people to commit to all of the meetings because we want people to feel more comfortable and share more,” Chuah said. “Now, with Module A and Module B, our schedules in A and B are so different. It’s just hard to set up times. We are trying to adjust to how people feel about it.”

The module system has created an obstacle for students of all class years trying to juggle a new routine, while also finding other events to fit into their schedule. Some students have started to gravitate towards {Pause}, a biweekly event filled with silence and poetry, which has seen a surge in popularity since the beginning of this module. 

Fellow Ahimy Soto-Garcia ‘21 believes that {Pause} has become more popular because students are longing for connection with their peers.  

“With this module system, it’s definitely really hard and {Pause} is a moment to be off your phones, be off of social media, have an excuse not to do your homework and then also get to meet other people,” Soto-Garcia said. “I feel like there’s been a real push this year for being in-person and not just being in your dorm. The Chaplaincy offers that, especially with the light atmosphere, the candles, and the performances.”

In the past, performances and other events that have been held in the chapel were open to students and community members. Acapella concerts were an especially popular event. However, due to Covid restrictions, Acapella groups, including the Gospelaires, are not allowed to sing this year.

“[We] have been waiting for the moment when the Gomes chapel would officially reopen,” Gospelaires President Jillian Serrano ‘21 said. “We used to rehearse and perform in the chapel and loved it. The feeling of the space is like no other on campus. The acoustics in there were like magic because you could hear yourself and everyone around you singing.”

This experience will be missed by others, too. Jasmine Nutakki ‘21, vice president of the Gospelaires, described how she will miss the chapels’ magic and serenity.

“Performing in the chapel always felt like I was singing with angels and I was always surrounded by love and warmth through the Bates Gospelaires,” Nutakki said. “No matter how cold it was outside, the chapel was always a perfect spot.”

Even though some performances cannot happen this year, there are still other events that can be hosted in the chapel, such as the vigil held for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

“We lit up candles to provide that space,” Chuah said. “People were free to talk about their own opinions concerning this event and her passing. A lot of people talked about hope. Even though she passed away, it is not the end. It is a push for us to have a better hope after 2020. After her passing, we should use this as a push to fight for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.”

The Chapel will continue to provide different opportunities for people to come together and have their voices heard. The Multifaith Chaplains and Fellows understand that in times of crisis, it is important to find places to reflect, pause, and reconnect. Their hope is that people will find what they need in this space.