Editor's note: After publishing, The Collegian was notified that President Crutcher hopes to announce the name of the next Chaplain by mid April, not over the summer, with a starting date being sometime this summer. 

Craig Kocher, the previous chaplain for the University of Richmond, returned to campus Wednesday evening, this time as a finalist candidate for the job he left just last year.

“I recognize this is a little unorthodox,” Kocher said at the beginning of his presentation, to which the faculty, staff and students in attendance laughed.

Kocher, who worked at UR for seven years, left the job last year to take on the position of senior pastor at Oak Ridge United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, North Carolina. His wife works in North Carolina and during his time at UR, Kocher, wanting to support his wife professionally, would commute frequently in order to see her, he said.

Coupled with the birth of their second daughter last spring, Kocher said he decided to stay with his family once he heard about the new opportunity in North Carolina.

However, according to Kocher, he soon realized he would miss UR more than he thought.

“Richmond was constantly in my heart and on my mind,” Kocher said. “I now see that longing as a calling of sorts, a deep desire to return to chaplaincy work in higher education, specifically at this university.”

Kocher’s family worked out a way to possibly return to Richmond in case he is hired as chaplain, he said.

“I love my congregation,” Kocher said. “These are good people and I enjoy being their pastor. But it’s a limited range of human perspective... and what draws me to UR is the broadening of that experience, the rich exchange that goes beyond just one confessional boundary,” he said.

His presentation, which each of the four finalists must give on how chaplaincies should interact with students of atheist or secular beliefs, then emphasized the importance of interfaith communication. He called upon his experience interacting with students of different faith backgrounds, going on pilgrimages across the world and hiring the Chaplaincy’s first rabbi and its first program coordinator for Muslim life.

One question Kocher answered asked how he would approach the role of chaplain in light of recent religious divisiveness stemming from the U.S. elections, particularly while trying to celebrate multifaith interactions.

Kocher said one way to confront this question is to help students cultivate understanding of their deep commitments and values. Along with that, he said it would be vital to allow students to strengthen their knowledge of their own religious traditions rather than whitewash them in order to create better discussion between faiths.

Kocher also addressed the problem of students concerned about immigration bans, saying that the antidote for anxiety is community.

“There are larger structural issues that I think we as a university should try to address,” he said. “I do think we should try to advocate for social justice issues beyond the realms of this campus.”

Kocher also proposed organizing secular students and embracing the neutrality of secular spaces, which allow people of different faiths to interact.

Another question Kocher answered dealt with helping LGBTQ students. Kocher highlighted the importance of structural changes, such as his hiring of rabbi Andrew Goodman, who is married to a man, and the importance of listening to the perspectives of LGBTQ people hurt by religion.

Marcus Weinstein, RC ‘49 and the chairman and CEO of Weinstein properties, was present at the presentation and voiced his support for Kocher during the question and answer period.

Kaelyn Heinicke, WC ‘18, who also attended Kocher’s presentation, took his first year seminar during her freshman year and went with Kocher and a group of students on a pilgrimage to the United Kingdom last year. She said she was excited about the possibility of him returning for her senior year.

“I hated seeing him go in the summer because it was the end of our pilgrimage and we were at the airport and it was this big drama. Everyone was crying,” Heinicke said. “And now it’s like, 'Oh my gosh, you might be coming back!'”

The chaplaincy position should not be decided upon soon, as the committee does not have to decide until summer, Steve Bisese, co-chair of the chaplain search committee and vice president of student development, said. People should check the website for the chaplain search for updates and to submit their own feedback about the different candidates, he said.

Kocher is the third finalist out of four for the chaplain position at UR. Each finalist comes to UR to give a 20 minute presentation and then answers questions from those in attendance. 

The last presentation will be at 4:30 p.m. on March 27 in Tyler Haynes Commons Room 305.

Contact news writer Kay Dervishi at kay.dervishi@richmond.edu.

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