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Program adds to on-campus living

Sept. 30, 2003

By Jenny Felske, reporter

Living among residents, along with community leaders and hall directors, a staff of seminary students called resident chaplains serve as both models and mentors for students.

'They have been entrusted with the spiritual formation of the residents,' Steve Graves, director of student missions and ministries, said. Their job includes leading Bible studies, being available for residents and informing residents about churches and ministry opportunities in the residence halls. They also conduct pastoral care such as hospital visitations.

The resident chaplain program began in fall 2001 as a partnership between University Ministries, Campus Living and Learning and George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

Nine resident chaplains are working this year, and program leaders hope to add an additional resident chaplain in Kokernot Residence Hall when space is available.

Tim Buechsel, a Waco seminary student, said he leads a Wednesday night Bible study to provide a place for people who want to know about Christianity.

'I want to encourage them in growth of faith and follow and discover their calling,' Buechsel said.

Chaplains try to balance the needs of their residents as well as a seminary course load.

Buechsel, resident chaplain for The Arbors and Baylor Plaza, said he feels it's important to earn the right to share his faith by first getting to know and care about the residents.

Buechsel said seminary is demanding, but being a resident chaplain helps him take the principles he learns in class and apply them to his residents.

'I try to introduce myself to everyone and make myself available,' Buechsel said. 'I want to provide a safe environment without pressure, and I am excited to learn about other cultures and faith backgrounds.'

Graves said both students and staff have commented about the resident chaplains' availability. He said their willingness to help students during move-in day and meeting with community leaders has begun to distinguish their place on campus.

Amy Watson, an Austin seminary student, said she still is learning about the needs of the residents. Watson attends all Campus Living and Learning meetings to learn how to promote building relationships, she said. She said she also goes to activities that community leaders hold for the residents and is working on ideas for service projects. Watson said she believed service projects open doors for conversations about deeper things.

'Resident chaplains live life with students and are open and honest with students exploring faith,' Graves said.

Each chaplain prepares for their residents by taking a StrengthsFinder test to find out his or her best qualities. Graves said most of the chaplains were found to have a strong sense of inclusiveness.

'It has been challenging to help reach students that aren't a part of the Christian culture,' Watson said. 'We need to think about embracing diversity.'

'This program is in the process of becoming a part of campus life,' Graves said because many students are not aware of the chaplain in their dorm.

Chaplains encourage students to stop by their room any time. They are available to residents who have spiritual needs and encourage suggestions for any ideas about service projects or worship opportunities.