“A presence of Christ”

April 22, 2013 | 4 Comments

Resident chaplains help first-year students adjust to college

Story by Cherry Crayton | Photos by Bennett Scarborough

BUIES CREEK -- Like many other college freshmen, Sarah Winter’s first year at Campbell University has been one of transition. There have been adjustments related to being away from home, living with a roommate, making new friends and managing a college course load. And, “We’re all trying to find ourselves and find some direction in life,” said Winter, a freshman from Apex, N.C., who is a biology and pre-physician assistant major.

This time of transition can be exciting and hopeful; but with it can also come anxiety, homesickness and loneliness. What helped make the transition to college enriching for Winter, she said, was Campbell’s resident chaplaincy program, which was begun in the fall of 2011.

Assigned to the six residence halls for first-year students on campus are five graduate students from the Divinity School and one from the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business who serve as resident chaplains, providing pastoral care and leadership to each residential community. Nearly all of the chaplains -- four females and two males -- also live in the halls alongside the freshmen they’re serving.

“Having a chaplain who lives in our dorm who is always there for us and prays for you is very comforting,” said Winter, who lives in North Hall. “I know it has really enriched my first-year experience.”

There for anything and everything

Unlike resident assistants who also live in the residence halls, resident chaplains do not deal with discipline issues or report students who violate policies or codes of conduct. Their primary responsibilities are to provide spiritual guidance and mentoring to undergraduate students and to help them develop and mature.

“My job as a resident chaplain is to be a presence of Christ in the dorms -- not that a resident assistant can’t do that, but that’s my specific job,” said Shekanah Solomon ’12, the resident chaplain of North Hall and a Master of Divinity student.

Each chaplain offers a variety of spiritual formation activities tailored to their residents that include small groups, bible studies, morning prayer sessions, worship experiences, and open discussions about issues related to faith.

In addition, the chaplains become part of the residence life. They attend hall meetings, eat in the campus’s dining facilities and use the hall’s laundry mats, for example.

Solomon has been known to stay up with residents until 2 o’clock in the morning playing cards. Brenda Hafer, chaplain of Small Hall, has joined her residents on service projects and hosted movie nights. And Phillip Tyson Pope, resident chaplain of Murray Hall, frequently invites his residents to join him for Ultimate Frisbee and to what he calls “family dinners,” where 10 to 12 from Murray eat dinner together at Marshbanks Dining Hall every once in a while.

“One of the challenges we can face is people knowing that we’re here and understanding what we do,” said Pope, a Master of Divinity student. “So being around and being present is key.”

Amy Adams ’10, resident chaplain of Day Hall and a Master of Divinity student, added: “The most important thing we offer is being there and getting to know the students. We want them to see us as a resource. We’re not just there to talk about faith issues; we’re there for anything and everything.”

Consider the topics that the students are going to chaplains about, she said. In addition to questions about faith, such as how to live a Christian life and the relevancy of Christianity in today’s world, students are turning to the chaplains for guidance about issues related to homesickness and loneliness, grief and loss, career development and relationships.

That’s what Faithe Beam, Campbell’s campus minister, had in mind when the university started the resident chaplaincy program.

Where the students are

The program grew out of feedback from students, Beam said. She often heard from freshmen that they wanted more opportunities for spiritual formation and community building. In 2010, her office offered five bible studies exclusively for freshmen that were led by divinity students.

The studies drew a number of freshmen, but there was room to reach more, Beam said. A way to do that, bible study leaders and participants suggested, was to go where the students were. “And that was in the residence halls,” Beam said.

A committee that included staff from Campus Ministry and Residence Life studied the resident chaplaincy programs at other universities, including Belmont, Samford and Baylor. Campbell implemented its own program -- overseen by Campus Ministry and Residence Life in consultation with the First-Year Experience -- at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year.

That first year, four chaplains were assigned to four residence halls, though they didn’t live there. Rather, they held office hours and organized activities that fostered community and spiritual growth. This year, most of the chaplains live in the residence halls, which allows them to build trust with the residents more quickly, Beam said.

She added that, ideally, there’ll be a point when all residence halls on campus will have chaplains or upperclassmen trained to assist them. “Our goal ultimately is to find the right chaplains for our halls who provide our students with a caring and encouraging space where they can talk about the things that are on their hearts and minds,” she said.

Making the transition easier

This past fall the residential staff at Day Hall asked several of its former residents to speak to its new residents about what it was like to be a college student and to share their experiences. One of those who spoke during the program was Catherine Gordon, a sophomore biology major from Mount Airy, N.C.

One of Gordon’s suggestions to the freshmen was to get to know to their chaplain, Amy Adams. “The resident chaplain is an amazing person to talk to because they are always there, and it gives you someone outside the dorm to talk to about problems you may be having,” said Gordon, who got to know Adams last year through a small group the chaplain led for Day Hall residents. “It gives you an extra person who you know is on your side.”

A current freshman who has turned to her resident chaplain is Taylor Gray, a psychology major and biology minor on a pre-med track. Gray said when she faces challenges, she can often get discouraged and take a “glass-half-empty” view. But Gray said her resident chaplain, Shekanah Solomon, who has led bible studies on Romans 12, has taught her to stay positive and “to hold firm in the belief that God will make a way out of no way.”

“Being a freshman is very tough, and having a person such as Shekanah there to guide you, listen to you and give you spiritual guidance or simple girl talk is monumental,” Gray added. “Having resident chaplains is a huge blessing to the college experience. They make the transition a lot easier.”

Resident Chaplains

Sarah Winter stands with her Resident Chaplain, Shekanah Solomon ’12.

Challenged to live faithfully

Resident chaplaincy program also prepares graduates students for a life in pastoral ministry.

Brenda Hafer had a resident chaplain when she was an undergraduate student at Baylor University. There, she saw firsthand how “resident chaplains provide an element of community and offer the presence of an older mentor or person of faith living life alongside of you,” she said.

That experience helped encourage her to apply to be a resident chaplain at Campbell University, where she’s a Master of Divinity student.

“When I was a student, just knowing there was a chaplain there was a comfort to me,” said Hafer, resident chaplain of Small Hall. “I hope we can provide students here the same.”

Like Hafer, most of the six resident chaplains at Campbell plan to enter pastoral ministry after they graduate, making the position a “natural way for the chaplains to put into practice what they’re learning through their coursework,” said Faithe Beam, Campbell’s campus minister.

Each of the chaplains applied for the position through the Campus Ministry office. Beam said her office looked for graduate students at Campbell like Hafer who understood what it’s like to be a college student, who wanted to invest in first-year students, who could apply what they’re learning about ministry in the college setting, who listen first and speak later, who safeguard confidential matters, who could talk with those who are struggling with issues related to faith, and who have an essence of maturity.

Before the start of the academic year, the chaplains received intensive, specialized training that prepared them to work with freshmen. Since then, they’ve met weekly with each other and with Campus Ministry staff for ongoing training, support and guidance.

“I think this program is of great importance to [freshmen], because the first year in college is a unique time of change and growth, and it’s helping build community while challenging students to live faithfully every day,” Hafer said. “At the same time, it’s helping me grow in my own faith and equipping me for a life in pastoral ministry.”


I have had the opportunity share classes with this young lady Shekanah Solomon and she truly is the presence of Christ!

By sharon on April 24, 2013 - 1:10pm

I love this….my daughter will be a transfer student there and this is very encouraging!

By Julie Clyde on April 24, 2013 - 10:54am

To God Be The Glory!!!

By Patti Williams, RN on April 23, 2013 - 3:35pm

I am so grateful and humbled to have the opportunity to serve in this capacity. God has truly been good to me! I am glad, to also work alongside bright and loving resident chaplains (RC’s) :)

By Shekanah Solomon on April 23, 2013 - 3:12pm

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