Erin Guzman, Interim and soon-to-be permanent Chaplain shares her experience as Interim Chaplain and hopes for the academic year.
First, a clarifying question, is there a track for you to hold the permanent position, or anything to go through before changing your title from Interim to permanent Chaplain?
“Yes, technically I’m still an Interim, only because I have not yet had my ordination service. I have the permanent position, but because there is an endowment connected to the Chaplaincy, the language states that the incumbent has to be an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA. So until I actually have my ordination service and the magic hand-waving happens, I still have to retain that Interim designation. It’s clunky, I know, but that is where things are at with that. Once I do get ordained, my full title will be: Henry J. Copeland Interfaith Chaplain and Director of Religious & Spiritual Life. :)”
What programs/organizations are you most excited about continuing to work with?
“I’m really excited to collaborate with all kinds of student groups and even off-campus organizations. Historically, RSL has had a very wide reach on campus, but a lot of that scaled down during the transitions related to the Chaplain position and with folks coming and going. So now I think we’re in a really good position to pursue new—and strengthen existing—partnerships. Groups like Wooster Volunteer Network, NAACP, the Living Wage Campaign and WooMutual Aid, Amnesty International, Environment Justice Coalition and Greenhouse, and Sexual Respect Coalition all do work and touch on things that matter a lot to RSL, so I’m eager to reconnect with those groups (and others!) because we have worked together a lot in the past.”
What upcoming events are the most meaningful for you, or that you have been devoting most of your time to?
“The Worthy Questions program holds a very special place in my heart. It was started over 20 years ago under a previous Chaplain, Rev. Dr. Linda Morgan-Clement. Worthy Questions—or WQ, as we affectionately call it—is an intergenerational mentoring program that pairs Wooster students with an adult mentor in the Wooster community (many of whom are Wooster alumni). Each semester, students commit to participating in small and large group gatherings where we simply ask big, deep questions that center on a theme. In the past we’ve done: Emotions that Shape Us, Communication, Identity… this semester, the theme is Journey. I find WQ so meaningful because having spaces where you can sit with hard but honest questions has been so important in my life and what led me down this path to becoming a Chaplain. What I wish for Wooster students is to not shy away from those deep questions (no matter how scary they might seem) and to lean into their curiosity about meaning, belonging, and purpose… which isn’t an explicitly religious practice, but one that can intersect with a religious or spiritual identity. I see that as one of the most essential parts of my role as Chaplain—finding ways to provide those spaces for reflection and encouraging young adults wherever they happen to be on the Journey.”
What was the process for the Chaplain position like?
“Becoming a college Chaplain anywhere is not an easy task! It requires a lot of schooling and obtaining a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree, then there are usually separate requirements based on one’s religious tradition to prepare them for ordination. Ordination is a type of religious standing that allows a minister to be recognized and handle matters that relate to worship, sacraments and rituals, pastoral care or counseling, teaching and preaching on sacred texts, and having legally recognized confidentiality privileges. Not all religious traditions have formal ordination processes, but at Wooster, our Chaplain must be an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). So, in order to be eligible for the position, I had to be in that process for ordination. For me, that included learning Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek, passing a bunch of exams, and being approved by a committee that oversees the process. All of that, then, had to line up with Wooster’s hiring timeline for the position, which was this past spring and into the summer. I was honored to serve as Interim for the past 2 years here, and I’m even more honored to continue being Wooster’s Chaplain—in a soon to be more official way, after I pass my last required exam later in September and plan for my ordination service later this year!”
What additional pieces do you want to bring to the Chaplain position / what would you like to revamp?
“I’ve got a really wonderful and brilliant group of interns to work with who are all really passionate about religious diversity and equity. Having a team of students who want to help expand the circle of what RSL does and can offer has been really inspiring when I think about what we can and should change or revamp. We want folks to know that RSL isn’t just about programs and student orgs who are explicitly labeled as “religious”—RSL is about building community, sharing life, doing justice, and thinking deeply about meaning and purpose. These are things that matter to a lot more folks than just those who identify strongly with a religious, secular, or spiritual tradition. Therefore, we want to show how we can be a support to any student who is looking for a place of belonging. I want my role as Chaplain, and RSL as a whole, to reflect outwardly the values we try to embody as an institution, and stretch us to be more brave, thoughtful, and compassionate as a community.
“I’m also really looking forward to partnering with our International and BIPOC-related student orgs because RSL can do a lot more to support these groups. We often categorize student orgs into different areas based on identity or focus, but we know that students’ identities and experiences expand outside those categories. So just because an org might not be a ’religious or spiritual’ org in designation, doesn’t mean the members of those orgs aren’t dealing with questions of spirituality, identity, etc., when they gather, plan events, or advocate for things on campus. RSL can be a resource in a lot of different ways—whether it’s supporting cultural traditions and festivals, or providing battery candles for vigils and solidarity marches, leading meditation and mindfulness opportunities or giving presentations, or just being a soundboard to consult with. I hope that we can be more visible in showing up to support all of our students and expanding how we define things.”
What motivates you the most within this position?
“To be honest, I wouldn’t be a Chaplain—let alone have gone to seminary—if it weren’t for my undergrad experience and my involvement in Religious Life at Simpson College. I found strength in myself I never knew existed and I was affirmed intellectually and spiritually by peers, faith leaders, and professors who took a genuine interest in me as a young adult. I love hearing students’ stories and about what their passions or questions are, and I know how important it is to have someone in your life who will just be there to listen. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have patience and thoughtful people hear me, challenge me, and encourage me to learn more. So that’s what I try to do as much as I can. And what I’ve learned is that the field of Chaplaincy is in a big period of transition where many are wondering how religious and spiritual identities factor into conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think I’m motivated by my desire to help answer that question, and I’m guided by the values of my faith tradition in doing that. Things like offering hospitality, practicing empathy, pursuing justice, and doing no harm directly connects with my goals to be consistent in antiracist praxis, liberative ethics, and religious equity on Wooster’s campus or anywhere. So I’m grateful for the opportunity to try and model that here at the College.”
Any additional comments for the upcoming year?
“I’ll do a plug for the Chats with the Chaplain program, which is essentially my office hours where folks can sign up for 30 minute conversations—either in person or on Teams. Right now, there are times available on Tuesdays from 8-10am, Wednesdays from 1-3pm, or Thursdays from 3-5pm, but I can always schedule folks in at times that work with their schedule. I’m available to talk about anything, not just religious or spiritual topics. Myself and AJ Hoy (our Catholic Campus Minister) are also confidential resources related to Title IX, so I hope if any student is seeking support, they know there are folks who are around and in their corner.”