The search for a new chaplain and dean of Spiritual Engagement has been in full swing in the months since Chaplain Maurice Charles left his position to be with his partner, Cliff Chan, who accepted a position at Emory University. Professor Nan Crystal Arens, who co-chairs the search committee with Julianne Miller, director of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life, explained that the committee interviewed nine candidates before bringing three of them to campus.
These three candidates who came to campus were the Rev. Nita Byrd, the chaplain of Saint Augustine University; the Rev. Shawn Clerkin, a faculty member in Theatre and an administrator at Gannon University; and the Rev. Gregory Wilson, who serves the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Kennett Square, Pa., as the Associate for Youth and Family Ministry.
Six students sat on the search committee and many others had the opportunity to meet with the candidates and to offer their input through online surveys promoted through emails.
Professor Crystal Arens wrote that “In the end, the search committee came to consensus” and presented their assessment to President Pat McGuire and Bishop Prince Singh of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, who will jointly make the final hiring decision in accord with the HWS Charter, which stipulates that the Chaplain must be an ordained Episcopal priest. She emphasized that the search committee was “looking for someone who was grounded, welcoming and an exceptional listener.” These qualities are important, Professor Crystal Arens wrote, because the next chaplain and dean of Spiritual Engagement should be able to champion multi-faith dialogue, to support students regardless of their faith or lack thereof, and to facilitate difficult conversations on campus.
Julianne Miller articulated how important the Office of Spiritual Engagement has been for students, working publicly and behind the scenes to support students. She emphasized the importance of each of these tasks, writing, “Some of what we do is quite visible: weekly Pasta Nights and Shabbat dinners, the Pass the Plate Food Pantry, the weekly Episcopal service, and (especially as we enter April and May), blessings and reflections at important campus occasions. Some of what we do is less visible: working with individuals, offices, and committees across campus to provide for support for students facing challenging situations and offering individual pastoral counseling (support in a faith-based environment, rather than the type of counseling offered at the Counseling Center).”
She added that the Office of Spiritual Engagement has also become a fixture of important campus reflections on anti-Semitic and Islamophobic shootings in Pittsburgh and Christchurch, gender issues and the coordinate experience, as well as efforts to support marginalized communities on campus. In the months since the Rev. Maurice Charles left his position, Miller wrote that “We have been doing our best to keep many of the projects and initiatives that come out of the office going.” In particular, Miller and Jennifer Tufano have preserved Pasta Night as a weekly gathering, Shabbat Dinner continues to occur each Friday, and the Pass the Plate Food Pantry remains open and well provisioned. Moreover, to preserve the behind-the-scenes role vital to the Office of Spiritual Engagement, Miller has filled Chaplain Charles’ role on the Title IX Coordinating Committee and Bias Incident Response Team. As the search nears its end, one thing is certain for the next chaplain and dean of Spiritual Engagement: as Professor Crystal Arens put it, “These are big shoes [to fill].”