In preparation for the Advent Semester, the University hired two new members of the Chaplaincy team: Rev. Ashley Mangrum and Wallace Benton. These hires came out of a need for more support for students of all faith backgrounds.
Mangrum was hired as the assistant chaplain for pastoral care and ministry development in All Saints’ Chapel, in February 2021. She is part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, however her role specifically focuses on all students regardless of affiliation in one denomination or faith.
She is originally from Jackson, Mississippi, but moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Sewanee in July 2020, where she now lives with her husband and three children. Before Sewanee, Mangrum worked as a hospital chaplain and as the Baptist University Chaplain at UNC-Chapel Hill. Mangrum served as a chaplain-in-residence while a seminary student, a program she is now overseeing at Sewanee.
Mangrum’s place at Sewanee “beautifully worked out.” It filled in all of her boxes, in terms of allowing her freedom to implement programs she finds helpful for the entire student body within her role with pastoral care. Additionally, she believes “that all of the Chapel staff are beautifully created in the ways that [they] creatively combine [their] roles to attempt to meet the needs of all students.”
In this effort to meet all students where they are, Mangrum’s main goals center around “caring for all souls.” She is “hopeful about grief circle,” which is a space for students who have experienced grief, not necessarily from COVID, to feel supported and cared for. It is a support group at CAPS, which she can facilitate because of her professional chaplaincy training.
Grief Circle allows “Talking about the ways grief can affect us to understand how to walk through it. All experiences are valid here,” Mangrum said. She is “hopeful it can be a meaningful space for students to find belonging and not feel alone.” Grief Circle meets Thursdays at 3:30 beginning on September 16 in the Social Lodge.
Additionally, Mangurm leads the chaplain-in-residence program. This has put two School of Theology students in two different residence “neighborhoods,” where they are able to offer additional support for residents.
She sees both of these as ways to continue to get to know this Sewanee community and students within it, and wants to invite students in the community to have an open mind and an open heart in a way that helps them to realize that assumptions are not accurate. She continues to ask the community to be open to new experiences, about yourself, about your faith, and invite other people into those questions with you.
“I feel like I’m a safe person to listen to your questions,” Mangurm said. “I would love to journey alongside you as you journey through them. Not answer them for you, but walk with you as you find your answer.”
“People often assume that as a chaplain, I exist only for religious students. I would love for people who are loosely religious to understand my role and my heart to be a caretaker for all souls and people. I’m not just here for Christians or people who go to All Saints’ and I want people to feel comfortable,” Mangrum said.
She would love to talk and get to know students, especially over chai lattes or about art, the creative process, or hiking and exploring. Her office is in Woods 206A.
Also new to the Domain is Wallace Benton, who now fills the role of university lay chaplain. He, his wife, and their son moved this summer from Roswell, GA, where he was the Director of St. David’s Youth Ministry.
He first visited Sewanee as a junior in high school, but the proximity to nature, smaller community, and the “incredible uniqueness” of this place have made him feel at home since returning. Benton has loved “that weird sense of closeness I think that I’ve always wanted, but couldn’t have articulated until I got here.”
He continued, “It’s incredibly relieving that I don’t have to worry about safety like I did in Atlanta, and it’s nice and unique to get to smile at people on the street and see them smile back.”
Benton is excited to explore new ways to communicate and interact with this special community in his role through relationship building, as he described his role as his “responsibility to do the work of the Chapel and take it to the rest of the community, while spotting communities on campus that could use more attention and care.”
Like Mangrum, he is for the whole student body, not just the Episcopal or Christian students, and he is especially passionate about “sitting with students in times of grief and jumping to celebrate in times of joy. It’s kind of daunting, but at the same time I’m still excited for those times of relationship building.”
His main goals outside of the broad goal of relationship building and connecting people back to the Chapel include creating an internship based on discipleship to help with finding one’s vocation. This is not necessarily in terms of Christian vocation or a calling to ministry, but rather “a way to identify and understand your purpose to be able to serve the communities you step into with grace and confidence,” he said.
Benton also hopes to continue to elevate Growing in Grace, the student-led service on Sunday evenings, and draw the circle wider. He said, “I want to make it a place where all feel invited to participate and really embody the role of student-led ministry.”
In addition to being the Lay Chaplain, he is also serving as a Posse mentor, where he is excited to get to mentor for, learn from, and get involved in the Posse14 program, while continuing to plug-in and participate in different opportunities in the Sewanee Community, like the Roberson Project, and just getting a community newspaper and selecting things to find different ways to jump in.
“I’ve always been that kind of person who likes to meet new people; that’s the kind of stuff that gets me excited.”
His office is 137 in the Wellness Center, between CAPS and the SOP.