Responding to requests from students for an interfaith chaplain, Bowdoin recently hired Robert Ives ’69 as its first Director of Religious and Spiritual Life. He starts this semester.
Ives has a Master of Divinity degree from the University of Edinburgh and served as minister for several small churches in Maine. Last year, he retired as director of a unique boat-building nonprofit he and his late wife founded in Pemaquid, Maine, in 1979.
The Carpenter’s Boat Shop offers nine-month apprenticeships to people who are in transition, people who need “to heal and find a new direction” — such as those between college and careers, between alcoholism and sobriety, between jail and civilian life, or for those transitioning into retirement. For no charge, the Shop teaches practical life skills, such as how to build and sail boats, how to garden and cook, how to take care of animals, or how to repair a truck and change the oil in a car. It folds its apprentices into a community based around the principles of work, prayer, study, service, worship and recreation.
Ives comes from a family of theologians. His grandmother, Hilda Libby Ives, was the first woman ordained in Maine, in 1926. She ministered small rural parishes and eventually became a seminary professor. Bowdoin awarded her an honorary doctorate degree in 1948. Ives’ father was a minister in Maine and Connecticut, and two of Ives’ brothers are also ministers.
A reporter with the Bowdoin Daily Sun recently sat down with Ives to talk about his new line work.
Bowdoin Daily Sun: What drew you to the position at Bowdoin?
Bob Ives: Number one is my love of Bowdoin College. It was so helpful to me, in terms of nurture, nature and just the wonderful grounding it gave me. I had just lost my parents [his mother, a teacher of disabled students (a progressive vocation in her time) and his father, a minister died in their 40s from illnesses, when Ives was in high school]. I had come to this school I loved so much. And the teachers I had here, the kindness I received here, the family and community I came to adore here made it just such a special place.
BDS: What is your vision for the job?
BI: I see this job as a fourfold position. First, to be the coordinator of the religious activities on this campus, to help facilitate what’s going on here in terms of the religious clubs and groups, and to help these groups.
Secondly, I see myself as a liaison between Bowdoin and the other spiritual communities, to help students be in contact with different groups if they’re interested, like the Baptist Church or the First Parish Church. Having lived in Maine most of my life, I know there are such interesting religious groups all around us.
Thirdly, I will be a counselor. Probably 70% of my job will be just sitting down with students and helping them navigate their own personal, religious, ethical and spiritual lives.
And the last is being an ecumenical chaplain, in the sense that there are going to be times when Bowdoin needs a person to be present for the death of a student, the death of a faculty member, for tragedies, celebrations, or whatever happens. It’s good to have someone on campus. Not necessarily to offer a service, but to at least be present to help coordinate, to speak to parents, to do whatever is necessary. I think this is an important aspect of this position.
BDS: What do you see yourself bringing to the students?
BI: I am bringing to Bowdoin what I have been doing for nearly 33 years at the Boat Shop. Helping young people to chart new courses in life, to navigate personal journeys in balanced, healthy ways, and to be true to themselves
BDS: Will you try to recreate something like that here, or is that hard because academia is really almost the opposite of that?
BI: I am not about to start a boat shop here, although I would not be opposed to building boat models with individuals, or building furniture [at the Craft Center, for example]. But there is a lot of common ground between my work at the Boat Shop and the needs of students here at Bowdoin to build their own personal, spiritual and ethical lives.
BDS: How will you reach out to students?
BI: How will I advertise the job? I don’t think it will need too much advertising! Already six students have come up to me and asked if they could meet with me personally. So I sense that there is a real need for people to discuss spiritual, religious, personal types of topics that way. These are basic, core issues. I love talking about topics like this, and I look forward to talking about any of this with students. [Director of Student Life] Allen Delong has been so helpful by giving me two places to be available to students, one here at 30 College Street and one in Smith Union, more central to student activities.
BDS: Walk-ins will be welcome?
BI: Oh, anyone’s welcome that way! Or appointments at any time, or just meeting at different kind of functions.
BDS: And will you be offering programming as well?
BI: I’m trying to feel my way along as to how I should do this. I will welcome input from students, faculty and other staff members.
BDS: Will you be offering things like group discussions?
BI: Again, I want to take it slowly. And I want to take the lead from students and see how it’s going to go. So, for example, I would love to do things like taking students out on different kinds of journeys, taking them to places like Sabbathday Lake, the Shaker village in New Gloucester. Here is an old, incredible religious center. And it is such a unique thing because there are still living, breathing Shakers. They are the last three Shakers in the world!
BDS: You come from a particular religious background. Do you think it will be a challenge to reach out to students of different faiths?
BI: It’s hard to picture that being an issue as I have been working with apprentices from a vast array of faith backgrounds for the past 33 years.Although I come out of a Quaker/Congregational background I have always valued all religious traditions. I look forward to celebrating the diversity of those religious traditions we have on campus.
BDS: Are you comfortable challenging people’s beliefs when you think truths might be distorted, or do you not think that’s your role?
BI: No, I think you have to do that. If things involve morality, or elements of equality or decency, absolutely. You just have to raise the questions. I think the important thing is how you raise the questions. I love asking any kind of question. My hope is that we might regularly enter into inter-faith dialogues in a manner that promotes understanding, compassion and respect.
BDS: Why do you think this position is needed at Bowdoin and important at Bowdoin now?
BI: A number of students have been asking for this position to be created. I think I see on any college campus, and maybe at Bowdoin in particular, a need to be able to discuss personal, spiritual and religious topics. And the mere presence of a person who is designated as a Director of Religious and Spiritual Life means that the administration and the College itself strong supports, it is something they believe in and want to encourage students to participate in.
BDS: And the classroom isn’t the right venue for that?
BI: It is an important venue, and I bet a lot of the religion professors have been fielding questions that they feel uncomfortable actually answering. But to have a director of spiritual life says openly and publicly, this is important for our community and our campus.