The Benefit of a Building

Faithfulness believes that what is needed will be given as you take the step into the path that love demands.

The vision of Oasis is one that takes seriously the determination and effort to live harmoniously with each other across difference – an achievement Diana Eck, of Harvard’s Pluralism Project calls pluralism. While each of us maintains our integrity for who we are, we are open, through goodwill, to sharing a vision of genuine community.

Because we have inherited a building – the Religious Centre at Flinders University – we have been able to embody this vision in a tangible way.

In the late 90’s we received a grant to refurbish the centre, facilitated by an architect. We were able to make a transition from what was established as a Christian centre, informed by the architecture of churches, where one ‘faced the front’, to one that recognised religious diversity.

The existing rectangular meeting space, with a raised area at one end, was converted into two level rooms – a large square meeting room and a smaller rectangular one which has a window overlooking the sea. The squareness of the main room signals a sense of equality. It is set with a central low table and a square of lounge chairs around the table. The space may be adapted for lectures using the lounge chairs and/or a number of conventional chairs.

The smaller room is a place of meditation and prayer.

The architect also refashioned the entrance to the centre, removing the walls of an existing office to provide direct and visible access from the Mall, a major walkway and the shopping precinct of the University. Extra space was made for this foyer by providing a concave wall at the far side facing a large glass entrance door. This wall provides a sense of welcoming embrace. On it, three colourful indigenous paintings greet you.

The foyer pays tribute, first up, to the indigenous owners of the land we tread in common. This is the only space where any one religious or spiritual tradition is acknowledged. The floor covering, for example, was deliberately chosen to suggest the red sand of Australia’s centre.
But we decided early on, that to respect the diversity of religious groups using the centre, religious symbols for any religious observance in the meeting spaces would be brought in by participants but removed afterwards. Storage space is provided. In this way, the space is kept “religiously neutral” and so, available to all.

As the concept of Oasis has developed the idea that religious artifacts might be displayed in the foyer has emerged. I take this to be a shift in acceptance of religious diversity – that now we can appreciate the presence of diverse religious symbols without taking offense. Two glass cases on either side in the foyer now house various religious artifacts and add to its colour and character. A segmented bookcase mounted on one wall houses religious texts from various traditions. The foyer has become a place to relax and read or to share conversation over a tea or coffee.

Love demands that we live in this world in harmony. Focusing the enterprise of fostering such harmony is made easier when one has a physical centre; beliefs and values are explored as stakeholders engage in decision making; just as the world of the artist is revealed by her creation, the centre is a tangible reflection of the extent towards which we share such a vision.
Conversely, just as a work of art may influence those who live with it, we hope that Oasis will speak of hospitality, kindness, goodwill and integrity.

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