In light of recent staff changes at Macalester’s Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL), the remaining staff and students hold hope for the future and are continuing to dedicate their time and efforts wholeheartedly to the program, despite a much smaller staff for the time being.
Over the past year, former Protestant Chaplain K.P. Hong’s position ran out of funding and Catholic Chaplain Fr. Bob O’Donnell was reassigned by the Archdiocese.
Now with former Chaplain Lucy Forster-Smith departing Macalester for her new assignment as Sedgwick Chaplain and Senior Minister of the Memorial Church at Harvard University, the CRSL is even more short-staffed .
“It’s just kind of spreading thin,” said Kevin Dowling ’16, co-chair of Mac Catholics and a Program Assistant for the CRSL. Dowling added that the Religious Words Council, due to the recent changes, is currently not having meetings.
Lilly Program Associate Eily Marlow agreed with Dowling when asked about the impact of the recent departures.
“There was a lot of disappointment around how [our] values could be carried out by a small staff … I’ve never known Macalester without Lucy. We’re losing an incredible amount of history and one of the visionaries on campus.”
While Dowling acknowledged that the staff of the CRSL are “incredible people who do incredible work,” the reality remains that much of the responsibility of running the programs on campus have been passed down to only a few people. For example, the Keystone Program, which is designed to help seniors transition out of their time at Mac, is being run by Marlow and Rabbi Barry Cytron after Forster-Smith’s departure.
Similarly, Cytron has stepped into Forster-Smith’s old place on the Multifaith Council, and Marlow, an ordained Presbyterian minister, is running Protestant services such as Vespers that Forster-Smith used to run.
“A student step-up attitude”
If it was ever convenient to undergo the massive changes the CRSL has, “now is the time because we have incredible student leaders,” Marlow said. “Really, the students have stepped up for the most part…our student workers are pretty remarkable and committed to our programming.”
“We’d like to keep operating full capacity,” Dowling said, adding that the CRSL is still aimed at creating “engaging and meaningful programming for students whether they’re religious or not.”
“[It takes] extra effort to kind of make these things happen,” he said.
For Cytron, the issue lies not in how people have stepped up, but in “how they wonder how they’re going to step up.”
“All of us have enormous high regard for the students,” he said. “You just step in, and do, and I see that all over the place. People just do that.”
“There’s a general theme of a student step-up attitude,” said Rachel Fogel ’16, a member of the Multifaith Council.
Kate Lane ’17, a member of the Multifaith Council, said that council meetings are still happening despite the recent shifts in the CRSL. Cytron has taken on Forster-Smith’s old position with the council.
“We’re going to have a Compassionate Conversation titled, ‘The CRSL Moving Forward: Onto the Bus or On the Open Road,’ which will be a talk about how the CRSL still matters and what we and various other groups on campus are doing,” Lane said.
Lane maintained that there is hope for the CRSL, despite the changes.
“We’ll find a solution,” Lane said, “and it may seem like things are going downhill but people are working to make sure there’s another wonderful chaplain hired.”
Search underway for interim chaplain
The school has begun searching for an interim chaplain to fill Forster-Smith’s position until the end of the year. According to Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre, the school is interviewing three candidates and hopes to have a decision made as soon as possible.
Interviews for the interim position began this week. The candidates have been on campus, meeting with student groups and staffers. The Interim Chaplain will perform many of the CRSL’s administrative duties, conduct programming, and fill much of the role vacated by Forster-Smith.
“We’re trying to find the best person who has a sense of Macalester and a sense of working with college students,” Hamre said. “You’d be surprised at how many people don’t see congregation work the same as doing a college chaplaincy.”
The interim chaplain will be a chance “to get someone in here for a couple of months” while the search process for someone to replace Forster-Smith begins, Cytron said. He added that the interim chaplain will have a difficult role to fill.
“I know enough about congregations to know that to be the chaplain of the college is about relationships … Two and a half months isn’t enough time to foster those relationships,” he said. “But just to have a resource around for the Protestant students will be necessary in the coming months.”
Despite Macalester’s traditional connection to the Presbyterian Church, the school is not explicitly looking for a Presbyterian minister to fill the role of interim chaplain. The search for a permanent chaplain, however, will stay within the Presbyterian faith.
According to Hamre, the interim chaplain could potentially be a part-time position. In combination with extra funds freed up by Forster-Smith’s salary, this could potentially allow the CRSL to bring in additional resources and staff members to help with the transition, such as someone to facilitate Sitting at Mac.
Forster-Smith’s departure allows the CRSL some flexibility in determining what the chaplain’s position, and to a greater extent the structure of the entire CRSL, will look like down the line. A collection of students and staffers will begin gathering in the next few weeks to discuss this issue and scope out a vision of the role the next Chaplain will have.
“We’re fortunate Lucy has carved out what chaplaincy means at Macalester,” Hamre said. “I’m afraid if we don’t think a little bit about, and reframe a little bit about that, people will be caught up with trying to hire another Lucy. And there’s only one Lucy. We can’t hire another Lucy.”
While that vision is still being defined, Hamre said she envisions that the next chaplain having, among other traits, a high knowledge of multifaith and interfaith issues, an appreciation for the values of Macalester and the CRSL, and an ability to work in a college environment.
A tentative timeline has the search for a permanent position beginning in early March, candidates arriving on campus by the end of the year to meet with students, and a hire by next fall.
“The goal is to try to have a representative group of people to come together in some kind of an open forum [and] to let the hopes and aspirations for what people are looking for … shape that conversation into a job description,” Cytron said.
Marlow sees the changes, while painful, as “a chance to slow down and to ask what is next for the CRSL.”
“There is this lining of hopefulness in this that we’re going to find someone who is what the campus needs in this moment in history,” she said. “But it takes a while on campus to become that prophetic voice that Lucy was. This change will let us ask really important questions.”
“I keep hearing two words from students; one hardly a surprise: uncertainty. Just a question mark. Will the programs be different, how will they be different,” Cytron said. “And the other word I hear a lot is the word abandonment…most of it is about the students feeling abandoned, by the Archdiocese, abandoned by resources, that the CRSL occupies less importance.”
“Who knows? I don’t think the students really know, I don’t really know,” he said. But among the confusion, Cytron sees “a little bit of hope, maybe. Hope that some of [students’] fear can be allayed.”