By Andrew Stoddard ’14
Religious places and institutions have played a significant role in Hampden-Sydney’s 238-year history.
The present-day Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond was founded on this Hill in 1812, and the College Church has been a staple of the campus since its construction in 1860.
Since his freshman year, Nicholas Manuel ’15 has worked in the College Church and, as part of that job with Reverend David Keck, on an extensive project about what defines a “sacred space” and about sacred spaces at H-SC. For his research, Manuel has interviewed a wide array of people in the campus community, starting with fellow students, many of whom cited athletic fields or their dorms as a personal sacred space.
Manuel then turned his attention to the faculty, talking at length with professors from several departments about their definition of “sacred space.” He spoke with Dr. Michael Utzinger of the Religion Department, visiting professor Michael Lecker, and Dr. William Porterfield, who retired from the Chemistry Department in 2012. Manuel also spoke with Angela Way, the curator of the Atkinson Museum on College Road.
Reverend Keck has helped Manuel work through obstacles he has encountered during the process.
“When I hit a wall in my research, he looks at it from every angle. One time when I got stuck, he helped me think about how people behave while in sacred spaces, and that really opened things up for me,” said Manuel, who is also a defensive lineman for the football team.
So, what did Manuel learn from these series of interviews? He established that a sacred space is a place of respect where anybody can choose to dwell; furthermore, he laid out a certain decorum that should be followed within the confines of a sacred space, such as general silence, showing respect to others, and keeping the area clean and well maintained.
For the culmination of his project, Manuel will apply his newfound knowledge toward the creation of a designated sacred space on campus. The planned location for this space is on the shores of Lake Chalgrove near Whitehouse. The design for the sacred space is fairly rudimentary, with a bench to sit on during periods of reflection and meditation and simple signage demarcating the area. Currently, the costs of the project are uncertain, as is the timeline for its completion.
“I hope to get it done before I graduate [in 2015],” Manuel said.
Manuel made it clear that this new sacred space would be available to everyone, regardless of religious denomination.
“You can’t have a [religious] designation in a college atmosphere; besides, my main goal is to make [the sacred space] accessible to everybody.”
When it is finished, the establishment of this new sacred space by Chalgrove will mark the end of a long but enjoyable project for Manuel.
“It’s been an interesting process as the research has unfolded over time, and I’ve had a good time getting to know people on campus,” said Manuel.
When asked what he considers a sacred space, Manuel cites the football field as his own personal sacred space, but also pointed out that a good sacred space can be anywhere that has peace and quiet, like College Church.
This article originally appeared in the February 21, 2014, issue of The Hampden-Sydney Tiger. If you are interested in subscribing to the Tiger, contact Mason Watkins ’15 at WatkinsM15@hsc.edu.