New Chaplain Gardner, Former Econ. Student, Found Calling in the Ministry

It has not always been a clear path for Rev. Anne Gardner, but she eventually found her passion for bringing religion to young people. Since September, Gardner has been Director of the Chaplaincy at Andover. Gardner applied for the position last year and said she was ecstatic at the opportunity to return to Andover, where she had interned when she was a seminary student. Gardner attended Fairfield Jesuit College in Connecticut — a choice heavily influenced by her parents, she said. She majored in economics and believed that she would get a job at a bank or investment firm. After several job interviews, Gardner said she went back to her room one night and had a meltdown. “I thought to myself, did I really just spend four years learning about something where I’ll sit behind a desk for the rest of my life, moving stacks of papers from one side of my desk to the other?” she said. “That was when I realized that lifestyle wasn’t for me.” Later that year, Gardner bumped into her college’s Director of Campus Ministry in the dining hall who encouraged her to look into the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. This was “the first domino to fall,” Gardner said. She went to work on a reservation in Montana and later at a home for abused women and children. Gardner said she thought that social work was her calling in life. But when the chance to work in admissions for Harvard University came up, Gardner said she jumped at the opportunity because she loved working and interacting with students. Later on, she was offered the position of Dean of Admissions for the Harvard Divinity School, where she worked for 15 years. After accepting the position, Gardner realized she knew very little about any religion outside Catholicism. Gardner started attending many different churches and religious services and found the Episcopal Church particularly captivating. “After attending the Episcopal Church, I really believed there was a place for me there,” she said. Gardner was inspired and began her mission to become a minister. According to Gardner, her father was very influential in her decision to become a minister. After her father lost a leg in World War II, Gardner had to take on his responsibilities around the house during a time when Roe v. Wade and Title 9 were on everyone’s minds. “The jobs he taught me were just simple household chores, like mowing the lawn and crawling under the car with a toolbox, but they were activities my friends and other girls my age never thought of,” she said. “But my dad strongly believed that women could do anything men could and had to do them.” In her youth, Gardner said her parents dragged her to church every Sunday. Now, she is determined to change the attitudes that some PA students have about spirituality through innovative church services. At the end of every month, Rev. Gardner will host an “iSermon,” where she chooses a popular song on the radio to educate students that Biblical lessons can be found everywhere. Gardner’s other idea is called “Bible Slam,” a service where students choose a passage from the Bible that they like, dislike or find meaningful, and then speak about it in front of the congregation. Gardner is hoping that these services will inspire the unlikely churchgoer to attend and find something that they’re looking for. Gardner oversees all the religious services and leads the Protestant service every Sunday. She works with the Protestant youth group Christianity Happening in Living Life (CHILL) and helps Protestant students to make their confirmation. Gardner oversees all holiday and memorial services, and works any weddings, baptisms, burials and funerals at the chapel. She is also the faculty advisor for the Muslim and Hindu groups on campus. Gardner said she could not feel more welcomed by the PA community. “It was a change, living in a residential community, but it was a nice change,” she said. “Everyone is very embracing, and the students are really fun.” Gardner lives with her wife on campus and serves as a complement to Alumni House. She works on the admissions committee, the community health team and the All-School Meeting committee. If there’s one thing Gardner wants the students to know, it is that the chapel is always open. “More than anything, we are a resource for students,” she said. “We welcome people to keep an eye on us. There may be things that they don’t expect us to do. They don’t have to be religious, but they may find that there’s something interesting for them.”