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The search is on

Committee's search for campus pastor to take a year

Julia Oller | Echo

Update (9/15/14 1:00 p.m.): A forum regarding Taylor chapel and the search for a campus pastor will be held today at 5:45 p.m. in the Alspaugh room of the D.C. Students are encouraged to share their input on Taylor chapel and the ongoing search for a pastor.

The Rediger Chapel pulpit will stand empty for the year.

A new 10 member committee, the Inter-Chapel Task Force, plans to open the search for Taylor’s seventh campus pastor at the end of the semester. The search process will continue throughout the spring and summer and will culminate in the hiring of a new campus pastor by next fall. Until the role is filled, the committee will oversee chapel planning and other duties.

The search for a new pastor comes after the departure of Randy Gruendyke as Taylor’s campus pastor last May. Gruendyke spent 12 years as campus pastor.

Before even considering candidates for the position, the committee is crafting an official chapel vision statement which will guide major decisions, such as who speaks and sings onstage in the future. The statement will also cover the reasons Taylor believes chapel services are an important part of the Taylor experience. The official philosophy is still in draft form but should be made public by the end of September.

In addition to creating the philosophy, committee members have also worked on the chapel schedule for the fall semester, which is 80 percent complete.

Dr. Skip Trudeau, vice president of Student Development and co-chair of the committee, said that the thorough process is due to the importance of the campus pastor role.

“I think the worst thing you can do is have a transition, hurry to fill the position and maybe not get it right,” he said.

In its preliminary search, the committee wants to hear a diverse group of opinions. This is essential to its ideology of “getting it right,” according to committee member Amy Wilson.

While the committee itself is a mix of faculty, staff members and students, Wilson said it is imperative to have many others chime into the discussion.

“If we only listen to 10 voices, we might not get a good read on what Taylor wants or needs in chapel,” Wilson said. Two forums held in early August gave faculty and staff an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback about the latest draft of the chapel philosophy.

Now that students are back on campus, plans are established to involve them more directly in shaping the future of chapel. A forum similar to the ones held for faculty and staff is being planned, with the time and location to be announced.

Other ideas to increase participation involve selecting small groups of students to take brief surveys about different aspects of chapel. One plan involves creating a database to compile a wider variety of student opinions to be overseen by Dr. Thomas Nurkkala.

“If students want to share thoughts with us, we take that seriously,” Wilson said.

Jonathan Eshleman, one of two students on the Chapel committee, wants his peers to grasp the important role chapel plays in building the Taylor community.

“Chapel is this interesting breed that’s kind of a segway between church and extended education,” he said. “If students want to participate in this community, I think it’s important they show up for chapel because chapel is about continuing a discussion into the community outside of this one hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”

In the coming months, he hopes to see a wider variety of chapel speakers to help spark this conversation.

“I think that this is an exciting year to experiment with a lot of different things,” Eshleman said. “I know that I benefit greatly when I hear speakers that represent different denominations than what’s common around this area geographically, whether it be Episcopalian or even the Catholic church.”

Trudeau agreed that chapel is key to campus culture. This is one reason, he said, that there are no groundbreaking changes planned aside from the new pastor.

“The reality is that we’re not backing away from the centrality of chapel at all,” Trudeau said. “We’re actually working hard to make sure that it becomes much more central to the spiritual formation and ethos of campus.”

The pulpit might be empty, but the committee hopes that the pews will be more full than ever.

(Thumbnail photograph by Shannon Smagala)

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