The Student Chaplain Program: In the Beginning…

Rev. Loretta Reynolds

I am proud of the work of the Campus Christian Center on so many levels.  But, among the best things we do is the Student Chaplain Program.  These dedicated students work all over campus providing spiritual programs, pastoral care, peer counseling, interfaith education and conversation.  They plan and participate in weekly chapel services and contribute to College ceremonies.  Often the services they provide are in the background as they quietly attend to student needs and build bridges for students to access the professional assistance they may need to succeed in college.  The work they, and their supervisors, do may go unnoticed so I want to take this opportunity to tell a story about this pretty amazing program.  As I began to do research for this blog, I found that the conception of this program goes much farther back than I knew.  So, let’s start at the very beginning…

First Student Chaplain team (circa 2000)

When Rev. Lee Morris joined Berea College in 1979 as a College Chaplain (then referred to as Campus Minister), Student Chaplains (then called Dorm Chaplains) were volunteers.  Due to the fact this it was a volunteer position, not all dorms (residence halls) had them.  However, all dorms did have “Caregivers”.  Ms. Ruth Butwell (then Dean of Students) kindly helped orientate Rev. Lee to these student roles & invited him to participate in Residence Hall Directors’ meetings.  These student volunteer Dorm Chaplains/Care Givers were under the mentorship of their Dorm Directors.  Due to his Clinical Pastoral Education Training from Southern Seminary, Rev. Lee sensed an opportunity to share this training approach with the Dorm Chaplains.  So, in 1979 or 1980, Rev. Lee wrote a proposal for each dorm to elect a Dorm Chaplain, still voluntary, with him providing direction and oversight.  Dean Ruth Butwell and the Directors were delighted with the idea and accepted the proposal immediately.   So, with much excitement, Rev. Lee soon began individual and group meetings and training sessions, which usually had to be conducted during lunch.

After about five years, Rev. Lee felt that these Dorm Chaplains were doing enough to merit a five-hour labor position.  There was also the challenge that volunteer chaplains could easily forget meetings!  The Directors approved the move to a 5-hour secondary labor position and Rev. Lee continued as the Dorm Chaplain Labor Supervisor.  Later, Nancy Holloway (Campus Minister) shared some of the supervision of the female chaplains.

This 5-hour secondary labor position proved to be more effective than the volunteer model, especially in terms of regular training sessions, student reports, individual meetings, sharing of experiences, as well as the students’ sense of standing and significance with other similar labor positions.  And, of course, that large increase in their pay check!

This was the organizational state of Dorm Chaplains until 1998.  In the Spring of 1999, Boone Tavern cut their number of student positions, leaving a number of primary labor positions open to be used in other places on campus.  With the support of President Larry Shinn, Dr. Edwin Broadhead (then CCC Director) and Rev. Loretta Reynolds (also a College Chaplain) seized the opportunity to work with Gail Wofford (then Vice President of Labor and Student Life) to acquire 17 of those open primary positions.  The Fall of 1999 was the first group of Student Chaplains to hold primary labor positions.  Upon the retirement of Rev. Lee, Rev. Loretta took over the supervision of the Student Chaplain program.  The Student Chaplains and Rev. Loretta worked closely with Residence Life staff; Rev. Loretta spent part of her time working with the Collegium and Student Chaplains also served as RAs.

First Student Chaplains to be Commissioned (circa 2001-2002)

Today’s program owes it success to Ms. Ruth Butwell and Rev. Lee, and to the support given by President Shinn and Ms. Gail Wolford.  The good track record of the volunteers and 5-hour Dorm Chaplains built the foundation on which the current program now stands.  We are deeply grateful to all these leaders and to all early Student Chaplains who helped birth this program, which is now known throughout the country.

This was the beginning.  In my next blog, I’ll cover the development of the Student Chaplain program since 2000.  In the meantime, if you see a Student Chaplain, ask them about their job – they will be delighted to share!

3 thoughts on “The Student Chaplain Program: In the Beginning…

    • Barbara, thank you for your question. Yes, Rev. Loretta has been in consultation with Rev. Lee on this article and he will certainly get a copy.

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