The Collegian
Thursday, December 01, 2022

In interview, Kocher says he wants to cherish the past while imagining the future

The following is an interview with the Rev. Craig T. Kocher, the University of Richmond's new chaplain, appointed in July from Duke University.

Q: How has your first week been?

A: It's been great. I've loved my first week. I feel like a freshman ... I'm trying to meet as many new people as I can. I love the energy. I love the beauty and the warmth of the people.

Q: Any big plans for the first couple weeks?

A: I'm settling in. I'm trying to do lots of listening. I'm meeting people and trying to understand the breadth of the story of the university and the chaplaincy, and I'm trying to imagine the role that the chaplaincy can play — thinking about cherishing the past while imagining the future.

Q: What's the most exciting thing that's happened since you started at Richmond?

A: Well, the president was introducing me to the faculty, and I went to the wrong Robins room. So by the time I got there, he was introducing me and he saw me coming in (I was a little late), and it was excellent fashionably lateness. I was a little anxious, but it was kind of exciting walking in right as he introduced me.

Q: Has anything about your transition to Richmond been surprising to you?

A: I was surprised in a really positive way, by how many people — faculty, staff, students — had followed the process and have a sense of who I am and are genuinely glad that I'm here. I guess surprising in a positive way, the visibility of this role. People really care about this position and I think they're glad to see it have stability.

Q: What policies or practices that you've used in the past at Duke or Davidson, do you see yourself using here at Richmond?

A: There are a few issues that are important to how a university chaplaincy should function in the 21st century... . The chaplaincy should help students engage with their own faith in deep and profound ways and engage thoughtfully with people of different traditions so that students who've graduated can lead thoughtful and eloquent lives, aware of the religious possibilities and challenges facing our world.

The chaplaincy should help students, using language and traditions of faith, to discern vocation. Understandably, that can feel overwhelming. Already the CDC's there, but I think the chaplaincy can help.

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I want the chaplaincy to be engaging the city of Richmond, especially the faith community. There's a rich, rich history — I'd like to engage with those stories so that those stories can inform the chaplaincy and the university. I want to be engaged with issues that matter to the city.

And, I want the chaplaincy to be relevant to students — a place where students can find welcome and support, pastoral care, guidance and spiritual formation.

Q: What's at the top of your "To Do" list?

A: I will be installed in a service in the Cannon [Memorial] Chapel on Oct. 3. That's an important date, but not just for me. It'll be lovely and there'll be lots of members of the university community, but it's also an opportunity to get some broad strokes about a vision for where I think we're headed. I want to get that right, in terms of the messages that are communicated in that service... . But I'd say relationships. Relationships are really at the top of my list. Getting to know people — faculty, staff, students, student leaders — and hearing their stories, getting their input. That's harder to say because it's not results-oriented, but it's developing trust ... and the only way to do that is to sit and get to know people, and let them get to know you.

Q: What do you predict will be your biggest adjustment coming to Richmond?

A: Duke is a bigger place, and I love Richmond because of [its smaller size]. But it means the institutions function in different ways. The adjustment will be learning how this institution functions — the culture of this place.

Q: What's been the most helpful thing someone's said to you since you arrived here?

A: I've had several people offer wise counsel, saying, "Early on, do more listening then talking," which is ironic considering I'm doing an interview ... but they said to do a lot of listening.

Q: What's going on with Chaplain Kate?

A: Kate has been the single most helpful person for me. Having been an interim for a year and a half myself, I have deep admiration for her and the way she ran this office. I'm working closely with Kate to figure out where we're going as a chaplaincy. I think we're going to have a lot of fun together.

Q: As a Christian minister, how do you meet the needs of students of other faiths?

A: As somebody who's Christian, what I want to do is live into and express the most generous parts of my faith. Something that's central to the Christian faith is hospitality and welcome. I try to live into that sense of hospitality in my role of chaplain for the institution.

My job is to exercise my own faith in such a way that it allows those of all faith traditions to also express themselves fully and in generous ways. And also, to create an environment on campus where faith matters and is seen as important, and that differences within faith traditions are engaged thoughtfully, and not seen as something to be afraid of, but as opportunities for deeper wisdom and understanding. In order to do that, I have to be authentically who I am, which allows others to be authentically who they are.

Q: How does faith fit into the lives of Richmond students?

A: I think there can be a tendency to believe that life is meant to be accomplished through busyness and production rather than meant to be simply lived and enjoyed. For students who are already people of faith, who are already connected, there are resources available.

For others, I also want to help ask deeper questions of meaning and identity. Who they [the students] are. Where they're going. What animates them? What ignites their excitements and passions? And, I don't want to prescribe answers to those questions.

Q: Currently, Protestant services are not held on campus on Sunday mornings. Will you go to church elsewhere?

A: I hope to do some guest preaching in the area and to attend different churches. I've been asked before about Sunday services — I do want to use Cannon [Memorial] Chapel. It's beautiful. As far as a service, I'll be trying to discern where there's a need.

Q: You hail from Chapel Hill, N.C., but worked at Duke University. What happens during basketball season?

A: I love both institutions very much, but deep deep down, I'm a Tar Heel through and through. As much as I loved my time at Duke, I'm a Tar Heel. Let's just say that come basketball season, you'll see a lot of Carolina blue on my door.

But also, I am very excited to be a Spider.

Contact staff writer Jacki Raithel at jacki.raithel@richmond.edu

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