Consistency is Key
Rosemary Dodd is a student at Wellesley College and was very involved in youth leadership in her Unitarian Universalist(UU) community back home in California. She is part of the UU student group at Wellesley, supported by a UU chaplain, and she can see the difference it makes coming to a school with an active and supported UU group on campus. “I think it helps to keep me balanced and gives me an opportunity to stay connected to my spirituality, especially since being UU has been so key to my identity and focus before Wellesley; it creates some continuity, which so many of my other UU young adult friends have struggled to find.”
This group, which was recently led by outgoing interim chaplain Jo Murphy, meets regularly in the school’s multifaith center for worship and connection. They check in, discuss issues, sing, and plan activities together, creating a small close-knit community. In terms of their group’s size, culture and meeting style they are similar to many UU campus ministries, but the paid part-time UU chaplain provides leadership which is an unusual arrangement.
Indeed, based on the comments from the other five students who submitted short testimonies about the group, the consistency that comes from having a designated UU chaplain on campus is key to their group’s success. Liz Wendel, class of ’18, noted, “it’s invaluable to have a UU chaplain on campus. Our group is able to be much more active and supported than we would be without one. While [young adult] leadership also plays an important role, we are all busy being students and could never do everything Jo does."
Anna Everett, the group’s student president, and Simone Liano, class of ’17 echoed similar sentiments that the presence of a chaplain reduces the stress put on student leaders. But that’s not the only perk of having a UU chaplain at your school. Liz noticed that having a chaplain gives them a more official standing with the rest of the religious communities on campus. Simone also found the chaplain to be a good role model and a person to turn to in times of need.
For students like Rosemary and Sarah Hitchner, who graduated this year, the student group was a way to stay connected to a UU identity formed before coming to Wellesley. For others, like Anna, this group was an entry point into Unitarian Universalism. Anna explains, “This group has been my introduction to UUism, and now I want to be a UU minister! The group funded me in going to General Assembly this past summer, which further helped me to put our practice in a context of the greater UU community and to feel more sure of my calling."
This unique model is not an easy one to start. Wellesley College employs the part time UU chaplain and funding comes from a UU alumni advisory board. However, there are other models for consistent compensated leadership in campus ministry and, as this group demonstrates, this kind of leadership makes a big difference. In the fall the new UU chaplain, Joanna Lubkin, will come on board and while the student make-up will change over time, this ministry will continue providing spiritual nourishment for Unitarian Universalists and seekers at Wellesley College.