College Chaplaincy: Communal Ministry

"Some people see . . . my role [as primarily] to help the campus deal with tragedies. In reality that's a small part but certainly a major [public] part." —Rev. Carolyn Fure-Slocum

On April 15, 2013, news of the Boston Marathon bombing spread around the country. People and leaders across the nation were reeling in shock, which extended to college campuses nationwide. Carleton College in Northfield was one campus that was deeply affected. The Carletonian, the school's student newspaper, noted that President Barack Obama's words on the bombing resonated with Carleton students from Massachusetts: "for millions of us what happened on Monday is personal."1 In response to the attacks in Boston, Carleton held a forum and "hosted a candlelight vigil organized by Chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum" which, she noted "was one of the most attended we've had in years."2

In times of global, national, or communal crisis, Carleton Chaplain Fure-Slocum often organizes a small vigil, offering a space to process the experience for anyone who wants to attend.

A time for people to light a candle, [to] speak. [What happens in the service] depends on what the situation is. I'm pretty sure for that particular event [9/11] we had the [college] president come speak and then I spoke. Usually we don't do anything that big. For an international crisis, an earthquake or tsunami or a large loss of life, we'll do a candlelight vigil here and I just put it out on the all-campus email and [it's a] 'come by at your own time and light a candle in honor of those who, fill in the blank.' I don't have to come up with a talk each time, no one is speaking during those occasions. It's just for people to reflect on their own time and light a candle. [Whereas] if it's something big like 9/11 we do more of a meeting. So for the Boston Marathon bombing last year we had a faculty member who was there, some staff who were there, and obviously a number of students from Boston. So later we gathered people to talk about what this [tragedy] meant and where this was coming from. We probably had about 20 students there and the wellness folks joined me and talked about how to take care of yourself in those times of grief and struggle. So it takes different forms depending on what [the situation] is.
—Rev. Carolyn Fure-Slocum

Rev. Dr. Lucy Forster-Smith, the former chaplain of Macalester College, echoed Rev. Fure-Slocum's experiences of guiding a college through moments of difficulty.

There have been several instances over the time I've been at Macalester when I've been asked to step into situations that were very painful to this community and to hold the community in its own healing and transformation. So a couple of times—one was 9/11—[my role was] being present to a community that was terrified. And not to make it all better, but to be willing to acknowledge that there are resources, that we have not been left to our own devices here and that healing can come and we can face fear. Because there is something guiding the universe, something underneath us that doesn't want that, that really wants healing and hope and fullness and love.
—Rev. Dr. Lucy Forster-Smith

As a chaplain, Rev. Dr. Forster-Smith not only found herself guiding the community through tragic and traumatic national events, but she was also present for significant issues that arose within the college itself. According to her, attending to the welfare of the college community was an important part of her work as a religious leader.

There was another really unfortunate experience of this politically incorrect party at Macalester where all these students were dressing up like, you know, it was a party that happened seven or eight years ago where students all came together and they were dressing up for a costume party. And they were dressing up in ways that were supposed to be politically incorrect but what ended up happening was it got really scary for people because people were coming in with blackface and in KKK hoods and it really just got to the point where it was out of hand and it was unintentional in the way that it made people feel really uncomfortable. There were a lot of people at the party that were like, 'This is really creepy' or 'I feel unsafe here,' it turned out that it became public knowledge and a lot of people who were really scared and hurt by that felt like they really needed to be apologized to. So we had a campus meeting and I was the one up front guiding it, not alone, there were other people there as well, but not only is it healing and hope but it's also healing and reconciliation and that is another dimension of my work and my pastoral ministry is not only to bring people to wholeness and healing but healing places where people have done each other harm, in a kind of restitution way, and it's all the language of faith.
—Rev. Dr. Lucy Forster-Smith

In line with the work of Jesus, Rev. Dr. Forster-Smith felt that she had an obligation, in her position as chaplain, to facilitate healing at a much larger, communal level.

The life and ministry of Jesus . . . [is] the model for [my work] . . . I am a disciple of Jesus. So what does that mean? Well it means knowing what He did and not only what He did but how He did it. Reading about Jesus's life and studying the path that he went into, that Jesus's ministry was as a healer, was to be present to people in their brokenness and it wasn't only about individual brokenness but Jesus's ministry was also social brokenness.
—Rev. Dr. Lucy Forster-Smith

However, the publicity of this one role can, at times, overshadow the other work of a chaplain. At Carleton, for example, Chaplain Fure-Slocum said that, "Some people see me only in that light, [that] my role is to help the campus deal with tragedies. In reality, that’s a small part, but certainly a major [public] part." Due to the fact that the whole campus does not frequently interact with the chaplain, it is often the case that these community-wide moments are the only time a student engages with them.

  1. J.M. Hanley, "'Anyone Could Have Been There,'" The Carletonian, April 24, 2013,

  2. J.M. Hanley, "'Anyone Could Have Been There,'" The Carletonian, April 24, 2013,