The Collegian
Thursday, December 01, 2022

Kocher chosen as Richmond's next chaplain; third overall

The University of Richmond's two-year search for a chaplain ended this summer when the Rev. Craig Kocher was named the university's third official chaplain.

Kocher (pronounced COKE-er), formerly the assistant dean and director of religious life at Duke University, was selected by university officials in late July after he and another finalist in the selection process spent time meeting with faculty, staff, students and community members.

The search, which began during the spring of 2007, was narrowed to two finalists in late June — Kocher and the Rev. Linda Morgan-Clement, a chaplain, director of interfaith campus ministry and adjunct faculty member at The College of Wooster, in Ohio.

Both Kocher and Morgan-Clement visited the university during the week of July 6, and in addition to a string of meetings with faculty members, the search committee and university officials, they also participated in a forum open to all students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.

During the forums, each chaplain gave a 15-minute speech, including information about their personal history and their intentions for the role of the chaplaincy on campus. A 45-minute question-and-answer session followed, during which both candidates fielded questions from attendees.

Kocher, who participated in the forum on July 7, outlined five services he said he hoped the chaplaincy would provide for the university: pastoral presence and support, an understanding of the increasing role of faith in society, service as a liaison between the university and the wider Richmond community, help for students struggling to make vocational decisions and a forum for conversations about difficult and important subjects.

When asked about how the chaplaincy, under his direction, would appeal to students — particularly amid a campus filled with overextended, outcome-driven ones — Kocher said that places of comfort and opportunities to worship, pray and show devotion could be appealing, if cultivated in the right ways.

"There is a need in the intensity of campus life for there to be space for students to ask questions of eternal value," he said.

Senior Ashlee Murphy, who attended the forum with Kocher, said she was impressed with the way Kocher said he had dealt with a tense situation between the GLBTQ community at Duke and a high-profile anti-GLBTQ group protesting on Duke's campus: Kocher offered a breakfast inside the chapel for Duke students to discuss the situation in a peaceful manner, while ignoring the protesters.

"He wanted to say that the chaplaincy was more concerned about having a meal where people could come together in unity, rather than trying to put people down," Murphy said. "I thought he was great. He had a coolness that would remind you of President Ayers."

Morgan-Clement spoke to the community two days later on July 9 and focused on a need for the chaplaincy to be a place of inclusion and safe space. She said she was particularly passionate about inclusion because of her own past. Born in Hong Kong, she was abandoned by her birth parents in 1959. After 18 months, she was adopted into the United States.

"Having a medical record that says, 'no history,' has shaped me," she said. "My passion for inclusion comes from my experiences of exclusion."

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But she was also careful to point out that she knew what it felt like to be included. Once in the United States, Morgan-Clement was adopted into a family that eventually included six children, others of which were also adopted. Now, she is an ordained Presbyterian minister, along with her father and four of her uncles.

Students who met with Morgan-Clement said they were impressed by her energy. Junior Buddy Cassidy said he had been excited to hear Morgan-Clement tell students she was ready and willing to tackle the problems at Richmond and hoped to expand the chaplaincy to make it more accessible.

In the end, both candidates received positive feedback from the students who met with them and the faculty, staff and alumni who participated in the forums.

President Edward Ayers announced to the university community, via e-mail, that Kocher would be the university's next chaplain.

In his e-mail, Ayers said Kocher's goals for the chaplaincy were closely aligned with that of the Richmond Promise, and that Kocher's work at Duke University had well prepared him to serve as the university's chaplain.

Although he was selected in late July, Kocher officially started at Richmond on Aug. 17.

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

Staff writer Stephanie Rice contributed to this article.

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