Historically, religious groups tend to stay far away from one another.
However, this is not the case at the SAIT Interfaith Centre.
The centre, which is located on the second floor of the Stan Grad Building on campus, has become a place where students of many religious traditions can worship, mingle and share their faith traditions.
Tim Nerthercott has been one of the five chaplains at the centre for the last two years. He also is a chaplain at Mount Royal University and at the University of Calgary.
A self proclaimed ‘liberal Christian,’ Nethercott was raised as an Evangelical, but left the church after being looked down upon for seeking out treatment to cope with mental health problems.
“Going to therapy and seeking out help wasn’t an option that the church supported. We were told that these problems were an evil spirit,” he recalled in an interview.
That’s when he started to explore the wide range of faith traditions that exist today.
Nethercott is also a dedicated activist for LGBTQ.
He studied Buddhism for two years overseas, but ultimately came back to his Christian roots.
“My favourite thing about the centre is that I get to work with a wide range of people, without religion even being a factor,” he said.
One of the things Nethercott feels could be improved about the centre, is the promotion and location.
“A more visible office would be great so we could get more exposure,” he said.
The interfaith centre is promoted as an inclusive space for all religions. Even if a person doesn’t identify as a part of any specific religion, all perspectives on spirituality are welcome.
“I try very hard to work with as many different groups as I can. I try to engage people around spirituality without religion,” Nethercott said.
“I’ve found it the most effective way is drumming,” says the chaplain, who is well known in the city for his drumming workshops.
Nethercott’s view of building community and connection seems to align well with the centre’s inclusive approach.
“It strengthens the community. People build one another up, and it lifts their hearts and spirits.
“It works below ideas. It becomes a communion of souls connecting over music,” Nethercott said.
Five chaplains who serve as volunteers at the school run the interfaith centre.
Each chaplain is experienced, dedicated, and has an extensive background serving in their faith.
There are three Protestant Christian chaplains, one Roman Catholic and one Muslim chaplain.
This provides some variety for students to come and explore different religious beliefs from different possible mentors.
The centre also offers religious accommodations and observance for anyone who requests it 10 days in advance.
The interfaith centre is a small room, filled with different spiritual resources, including the Bible, and a variety of ‘self-help’ and grief counselling books.
There are also brochures that direct students to call centres and counselling options outside of SAIT.
Ministry assistant Heidi Yip has been spending time working with students at SAIT since the beginning of September.
“I love working with the variety of different students, talking with them, and connecting,” she said.
“I love this quiet space too. I can play my guitar and practice music here, and sometimes students join me,” Yip said.
Along with the interfaith centre, there is also a meditation room, and a meeting room that are both affiliated with the centre.
The meditation room is a large space where students are free to come and go, as long as they do so in a respectful manner.
Daily Muslim prayers are held in this room, starting at 1:45 p.m. Catholic mass is held in the same room on Wednesdays at noon.
Someone who has made use of the centre at SAIT is Sahib Rahim, a first year business administration student who follows the Muslim faith.
“I follow Islam very closely, but I try to keep an open mind about religion and spirituality too.”
Rahim has attended a few Muslim daily prayers that SAIT offers, but not very often. He prefers to pray on his own.
After moving from Pakistan to Calgary, Rahim appreciates that the school is happy to hold a space for the religion he grew up with.
“SAIT is doing everything right in that sense. I haven’t been here very long, and I need more time to adjust,” Rahim said.
The centre felt like a place where Rahim could connect with other like-minded students, some of who had just moved to Calgary as well.
“Meeting some people who held the same views and ideas as me made me feel more supported and connected in a new place,” Rahim said.
The centre is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.
More information on Prayers and Services can be found on SAIT’s interfaith website.