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Brandeis weighs merger of Christian chapels

WALTHAM -- Brandeis University is considering combining its two Christian chapels in a long-term renovation project that would make room for its growing Muslim population, according to students and faculty.

The renovation was discussed at a board of trustees meeting last month and then reported in a story in the student newspaper, The Justice, prompting concern among Christians on campus.

While a university spokesman denies that a merger of Catholic and Protestant chapels is in the works, some students and faculty wonder.

''I like to think that it is more of a rumor," said Chris Farrell, a Brandeis junior and the Catholic chapel's sacristan.

''At Brandeis, they do have a tendency for making decisions without consulting students," said Farrell. ''With something that big, they will have to talk about it with students."

University chaplains confirmed the renovation was under debate.

''It is something Brandeis is considering," said Rabbi Allan Lehmann. ''It would be a long-term project. All decisions and actions are not likely for several years yet."

''Space is at a real, real premium at Brandeis University," said Dennis Nealon, a university spokesman, acknowledging that the Muslim worship space is not ideal.

But he said a merger of the Christian chapels was news to him.

''I would've heard of that if it were anywhere close to reality," Nealon said.

Three chapels serving the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communities stand around a heart-shaped pond on the edge of the Brandeis campus.

They were positioned in such a way that the ''shadow of one never touched the other," said Jonathan Sham, a 22-year-old Brandeis senior majoring in biochemistry and philosophy. Ideally, he explained, this meant that the communities ''don't want to step on each other's toes."

But lately, another religions' shadows have moved closer to the three.

''It's an issue of accommodating the Muslim community in addition to other groups that don't have a place to worship," such as Buddhists and Hindus," said Farrell.

School officials said Brandeis does not keep statistics of the religious affiliation of its students.

If the Christian communities were to use the same chapel, several logistical changes would be required. For example, the tabernacle and crucifixes used in a Catholic Mass would have to be removed for Protestant worshipers.

The Rev. Walter H. Cuenin, the university's Catholic chaplain, said many other universities have already followed a nondenominational model, citing MIT and Boston University's chapels.

''I'm quite open to pursuing the conversation -- making it happen in a way that works for both communities," Cuenin said.

LESLIE SPOELSTRA

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