Disciples News Service

College chaplains provide ministry of presence on campuses

Submitted by Higher Education and Leadership Ministries (HELM)

When we think of college, we think of books, professors, and athletic events, but we don’t often think college chaplains. Yet college chaplains play a vital role on campuses. College chaplaincy is a ministry of presence and can often feel like a job that requires the person to be on hand 24/7.

A major part of a chaplain’s responsibility is coordinating the religious life offerings on campus, like weekly chapel services, study groups and fellowship time, or leading mission trips. The chaplain also participates in campus-wide events.

Other than the president and deans, very few university officials are called on to be present at more university functions than the chaplain. Offering prayers at opening convocation, commencement, and athletic events, the chaplain is there to be the spiritual voice of the institution.

The places where the chaplain is often most present, but perhaps not widely visible, are in providing pastoral care and mentoring students in the process of vocational discernment. From the moment students arrive on campus until the day they graduate, students will face serious personal challenges that lead them to seek out someone to talk to. Students are also looking for someone who can engage them from a faith perspective.

Whether it’s struggling with grades and roommates, dealing with the loss of a loved one back home, or trying to figure out answers to new and unsettling questions of faith, students look to the chaplain as a pastor.

Chaplain at Bethany College Rev. Cherisna Jean-Marie says: “The ministry of presence is one of the most fulfilling roles I play as a chaplain. To be a conversation partner, a guide, a sacred and safe place for young people discovering who they are and who they want to be is probably one of the most important things I’ll do in my vocation.”

Chaplains also serve as mentors to students who are trying to better understand how to best use their talents and how to nurture their gifts.

“Increasingly people are unfamiliar with the chaplain’s job, so students might not actively seek you out at those critical vocational intersections they face,” says Rev. Bruce Fowlkes, chaplain at Eureka College. “I must communicate and demonstrate mentoring skills, and the passion for it, at every opportunity. In essence, it is taking my calling to where students are actively discerning.”

The role of the college chaplain is unique. It lies at the nexus of education, ministry, and personal growth. While the public presence of the chaplain is the one that gets noticed most frequently, it is the personal, pastoral presence that often has the biggest impact on the life of a student.

To support the work of chaplains and other Disciples higher education programs, you’re invited to give to the 2018 Thanksgiving Special Day Offering, received in many congregations on Nov. 11 and 18.