The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

Acting chaplain optimistic about changes

The University of Richmond's Office of the Chaplaincy started the new semester with new staff members and a myriad of ideas to bring students back to the chaplaincy.

All of the changes are taking place in the wake of the departure of former Chaplain Daphne Burt, who resigned on Dec. 11, 2006, after the controversy surrounding the firing of Grace Holcomb, the director of the university's Bonner Scholars Program.

Acting Chaplain Kate O'Dwyer Randall, who was the associate chaplain prior to her current position, said that among the changes were the Sunday worship service's move to 11 a.m., the addition of a grief group for students of any faith who have experienced loss and the creation of a new society for students who are interested in going into the ministry. In addition, she will invite all 25 campus ministers to her house once a month for the opportunity to get to know one other and to build a cohesive community.

"We want students to be involved on many levels at the chaplaincy," O'Dwyer Randall said. "With the worship planning, we're planning on giving students a structure where they can actually become leaders with certain designated responsibilities that are then known by their peers ... We want the place flooded with students."

One of the staff's primary goals is to get more students involved in the Chaplaincy, Interim Associate Chaplain Paul Clay-Rooks said.

"I want to see life in the chaplaincy," he said. "I want to see students bustling in and out of those doors to the Wilton Center. I want them to feel comfortable talking to us and not just about the [politically correct] stuff that they think you're supposed to say to spiritual advisers on campus, and with the fact that when they come to us, we might not have any answers, but know that we are with them on their journey and supportive of where they want to go."

According to an e-mail from university President Bill Cooper to all students, faculty and staff, Burt's resignation was effective Dec. 31, 2006.

"We were surprised at Dr. Burt's resignation and the quickness of it," O'Dwyer Randall said. "Very quickly we gathered as a group and a united team and said, 'OK, this is going to be a lot of work, and here we go, we are up for it.' And I think people had a lot of excitement to be working together."

Senior Reynolds Chapman said that while Burt's resignation came as a shock, he was happy to hear that O'Dwyer Randall would be acting chaplain.

"It was disappointing because I did have respect for Dr. Burt and I think she did a lot of good things here," Chapman said. "But when I found out that Chaplain Kate would be taking over as the [acting chaplain], I was very excited because I'd gotten to know her last semester and she's extremely personable and is very committed and compassionate about the campus."

Burt said in an e-mail statement that O'Dwyer Randall was the unanimous choice of the Associate Chaplain Search Committee because of her experience, vision and energy, and that she applauded Cooper's selection of O'Dwyer Randall as acting chaplain.

"Chaplain Kate is a woman of extraordinary gifts and talents," Burt said. "I have no doubt that, together with the entire chaplaincy staff, she will provide meaningful spiritual leadership, programming and peace."

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As acting chaplain, rather than interim chaplain, O'Dwyer Randall has the option of being a candidate for the permanent position should President-elect Edward Ayers deem a search necessary.

Though they are very excited about what lies ahead, O'Dwyer Randall said, the transition has been challenging for the new staff.

"We have a learning curve on every level," she said. "That always is hard. ... What's so great is that we're young and yet the history of the office is so rich that there are all these really strong bones."

Clay-Rooks said that the chaplaincy staff was taking measures to make the chaplaincy more approachable and welcoming to students. Chapman, a member of the Council for Christian Unity, which is a group of different representatives from all of the campus Christian ministries, said he had noticed a more hospitable environment this semester.

One of the chaplaincy's objectives is to re-establish the office's place on campus. Regardless of the initiatives and new policies, the staff recognizes the need to foster an inviting and trusting relationship with the students.

"I'd like to see people trust the chaplaincy again," Clay-Rooks said. "I think students feel this breach of trust, this breach of connection, and I hope that that can be repaired. As a part of that, I hope students really get to see how cool the people are who work in the chaplaincy \0xAD they have such colorful lives and such insight that I think they really can help you on your journey, wherever you're headed"

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