(If you haven’t read Part 1 click here before continuing on.)
Acquiring 17 primary labor positions was somewhat of a miracle so we knew we had to make the very best of the gifts we had been given. In the fall of 1998, I was hired to work as a bridge between the Campus Christian Center and the Collegium (Residence Life professionals) and assumed the position of Student Chaplain supervisor upon Rev. Lee’s retirement. Graciously, Rev. Lee shared the materials he had used for training. I am so thankful I didn’t have to start from scratch! The new primary job position was supported by the Campus Christian Center budget and while I was designated as the labor supervisor, the Student Chaplains also worked as Residence Assistants (RAs). This meant they received training from the CCC and Residence Life, alternated between the 2 departments for labor meetings, and also reported to their Collegium member. We had to figure out how this shared position would work so we started with 9 Student Chaplain/RAs the first year. Through trial and error, patience, and shared effort, within 3 years we worked up to the full 17-member team, with a Student Chaplain in every residence hall!
During those early years, there were joys, accomplishments, and of course challenges. The program grew stronger and the depth of training expanded. Around 2010, it was time to go through a major evaluation process. The following were some of the successes and challenges of the program at that point.
The Student Chaplain Program:
- Provided a formal and visible bridge between the CCC and Residence Life
- Provided visibility of our Student Chaplains (SCs) around campus as well as dependable student representatives for the college
- Brought the inclusive Christian Commitment of the College into the residence halls in a tangible way
- Provided an important bridge/connection between students and professional College Chaplains
- Provided leadership training, peer counseling training, and basic theological and religious education to SCs
- Served as an invitation to explore religious vocation and served as a training ground for students preparing for a religious vocation and/or seminary
- Taught transferable leadership skills that could be applied to any vocation
- Provided trained students to participate/speak in chapel, convocations, and other special college events
- Provided an opportunity for students to stretch their world view and understanding of their own faith
- Provided individual and small group time to analyze, question, organize, and plan for implementing pastoral care to a wide variety of student needs
- Provided a one-of-a-kind model which other colleges have used and adapted to fit their own needs.
- Hiring and on-going supervision was shared by the CCC Labor Supervisor and the Student Chaplain’s Collegium member. This joint supervision carried positive results as well as challenges; this arrangement provided a good support system but SCs often felt pulled in two directions or just unsure of where they were going or to whom they should turn.
- Being the only one on their RA staff who was paid by a different department often proved to be complicated for the student and for supervisors when it came to labor forms, vacation hours, evaluations, etc.
- SCs were paid through the CCC but spent the bulk of their time and work in the residence hall. This often resulted in SCs feeling like they did not have a home; or at best, it was a split home.
- The split commitment extended to training time as well; 2 weeks a month SCs were together at the CCC for team building and training, and 2 weeks a month they were with Residence Life for their labor meetings.
- The staff responsibilities in the hall consumed most of the SC’s time, leaving little time for them to be available to the CCC. This concern led to the creation of the Community Student Chaplain position that allowed for a few Student Chaplains to work solely with the CCC, providing much needed student support for the programs of the CCC.
These challenges sometimes made for a feeling of fragmentation as well as a loss of balance and focus for all involved. The CCC was building bridges, but the complications of shared personnel and shared supervision began to feel more like a spider web than a bridge. We wanted to continue to support and collaborate with Residence Life but both departments realized that some changes needed to be made. Between 2010-2013, we slowly moved from dual SC/RA positions to the current model.
Student Chaplains are no longer RAs but work very closely with Residence Life by attending RA staff meetings, supporting student staff by providing social and spiritual programs, and serving as peer counselors in the residence halls and throughout campus. Our professional College Chaplains who supervise the Student Chaplain team also continue to work closely with Residence Life professional staff by attending staff meetings and providing Chaplain-on-Call services.
To become a Student Chaplain, one must go through an intensive application process which includes individual and group interviews conducted by current Student Chaplains and CCC professional staff. If chosen, the individual will join 16 other dedicated young people in carrying out this primary labor position, which is much more than just a job. While Student Chaplains serve the entire student body as spiritual support and peer counselors, each student is assigned a specific area of service: Fresh Start (first year halls), Interfaith, Chapel, Non-Traditional students, Interracial Education & Spiritual Care, Mental Health & Spiritual Care, Gender Inclusivity & Spiritual Care or Chill & Chat (community & service).
At the beginning of the school year, SCs come to campus about 10 days before classes begin for intensive training. The training and support continue throughout the year in weekly small group meetings (includes discussion on a common book and conversations regarding what they are experiencing in their personal and work life) and in weekly labor meetings (includes team building and learning/practicing leadership skills).
It’s a beautiful thing to see how each generation has contributed to the growth of this program. For 20 years, working with Student Chaplains was the joy of my life. They taught me so much, kept me on my toes, and always made my heart smile. Each one of them left their mark on me and on the program. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity and the honor of working with all these exceptional students. Former SCs are now seminary professors, chaplains, social workers, college professors, counselors, dedicated parents, doctors and nurses, pastors and teachers. There is no bigger joy than hearing former students credit the skills they learned as a Student Chaplain as helping them be successful in their professional and personal life.
Now, the supervision baton has been passed on to our two newest professional College Chaplains: Rev. Dr. Jake Hofmeister and Rev. Dr. LeSette Wright. They will take the Student Chaplain program into the next generation. Blessings on them as the story continues…