Committee to Explore PA’s Spiritual Needs

Last fall, Head of School Barbara Landis Chase formed the Committee on the Chaplaincy and Spirituality in order to evaluate the current role of the chaplains and find the most appropriate system to meet the spiritual and religious needs of students on campus. The Committee, headed by Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School, consists of student representatives and actively religious faculty figures on campus. It plans to report back to Mrs. Chase by January. Reverend Ebner, Protestant Chaplain and member of the Committee, said, “We’re trying to understand what the needs are. We’re trying to see what the ideal religious program is.” The Committee is exploring issues such as whether or not the chaplaincy should attempt to fulfill the religious needs of faculty as well as students. Reverend Ebner said, “If you think about Graham house and Isham… [They are] clearly defined as institutions meant to work with students. The chaplaincy has always been beyond that…We baptize babies; we do funerals; we do weddings.” The Committee also plans to explore the growing shift in America from religion to spirituality and hopes to address both religious and spiritual students. Ms. Sykes said, “When we first started [the committee] we realized we had to define spirituality. While [Andover is] a secular school, everybody has a spiritual facet.” Another of the committee’s goals is to modernize the chaplaincy. Reverend Ebner said, “The chaplaincy review is really a reality check about spiritual life on campus. We’ve had [the same] model for chaplaincy for over 28 years now.” The current chaplaincy is a tripartite ecumenical model, devised in the 1970s. This model is designed to universally encompass and represent the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish religious groups on campus. Andover’s students, however, have changed over the last few decades, enrolling students from 42 different countries and of several religious backgrounds. Reverend Ebner commented, “Very quickly the demographic changed as we’re admitting a more diverse student body.” The Committee on the Chaplaincy and Spirituality is looking to address this issue of expanding religious diversity. As of now, members of the chaplaincy and other faculty members organize religious services for other faiths. The Committee has already met with the student religious groups on campus, and is now working to reach out to other students who are not involved with organized religion at Andover. Libby Hambleton ’08, a member of the Committee, said, “We want to make spiritual and religious life more available on campus…There’s a lot of stigma involved.” The Committee will send surveys out to students, parents, and faculty to identify the needs of non-religious community members. Other New England prep schools are also re-examining their chaplaincy programs. Ms. Sykes will also attend a meeting of the New England Independent School Spirituality Committee later this year.