From dorm matrons, to assistant proctors, to proctors, Sewanee has had a lot of people on campus who dedicate their time to caring for the undergraduate students in their dormitory halls. In 2016, Sewanee made the official change from having dorm matrons in the dorms to having proctors. The dorm matron apartments in various residence halls have remained mostly unused in the past few years, but in 2021, All Saints’ Chapel, in coordination with Residential Life and The School of Theology, began the Chaplains In Residence program. Over the past two years, it has only grown. Now, in the 2023-2024 school year, there are four chaplains in residence here in undergraduate dorm halls.
“All Saints’ is very passionate about nurturing the whole student, students as a whole person,” Amanda Gott, interfaith chaplain and supervisor for the Chaplains In Residence, said. “For The School of Theology, this is a really great professional opportunity for the students. For Residential Life, it is a way to support students where students are living.”
Chaplains in residence are School of Theology students who are seeking a master’s in divinity, and ordination in the Episcopal Church. An important aspect in becoming a priest is learning pastoral care. All of the School of Theology students are required to complete clinical pastoral education, which usually involves serving as a hospital chaplain, and field education, where they are paired with a community parish. According to Nolan McBride, a current chaplain in residence, the act of being a chaplain in residence “feels like an extension” of the work they are doing in the community and “taking what [they’ve] learned in the classroom and putting into practice.”
While all of the chaplains in residence are being trained in the Episcopal tradition, their support is for all students and they act as an “avenue of support” for any student seeking guidance in the transitional phase of college. “The support that we offer is not necessarily Christian, it’s nonsectarian, which means that we’re familiar with a number of faith traditions and ethical systems,” Sam Haisten, chaplain in residence, said.
The seminarians spent their time in the School of Theology learning how to support and care for people from all walks of life and the chaplains in residence are excited to share what they have learned with the undergraduate students and gain some experience in pastoral care while they are still learning.
“[It’s an] opportunity for the seminarians to use their gifts to help the undergraduate students through what is a big transition in life,” Kelton Riley, chaplain in residence, said.
The chaplains in residence are also a confidential listening ear, they do not share any information students confide unless it is a Title IX concern or someone is in imminent danger. “The chaplains want students to reach out and know that they are a safe, confidential resource,” Gott said. “It is a judgment free zone, the chaplains are caring, open minded, generous, and want the students to be well and know that they are important.”
One of the hardest transitions for some college students can be being far away from their family and loved ones. A huge piece of the chaplain’s purpose is to be a place of love and support for all students, as they adjust to living on their own for the first time.
“I hope our presence reminds the students that they are loved,” William Simerly, chaplain in residence, said. “I’m there to be present and remind them that they are loved, and there is someone on this campus who cares for them.”
Gott said what she hopes the program provides for the undergraduate students is “support through the ups and downs of college life” and “helping students have a sense of belonging.”
While the chaplains currently only reside in Hodgeson, St. Lukes, Trezevant, and Tuckaway, all of the chaplains emphasized that they are there for all the students on campus, regardless of where they live.
“If you need someone to talk to, we’re here,” Simerly said.
If students are interested in reaching out to a chaplain, they can email Gott, check the All Saints’ website for information on the chaplains, or ask their proctors.
“My favorite thing about it is knowing that these small points of connection are creating a larger picture,” Haisten said. “I think what we do is a really beautiful ministry, and the campus is a beautiful ministry to us.”