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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Reflecting on 20 years at Mac with Lucy Forster-Smith

Before Lucy Forster-Smith departs for Harvard to start her position as the Sedgwick Chaplain to the University and Senior Minister in the Harvard Memorial Church, The Mac Weekly sat down with our chaplain of 20 years to talk about her first impressions of the community, multifaith collaborations and what she’ll miss about the students.

When did you first come to Mac?

I’ve been at Macalester 20 years. I started January 2, 1994. A lot of you weren’t even born yet. So I always have to keep my perspective on that; these people were in the womb when I started at Macalester.

Lucy Forster-Smith’s last day will be Feb. 10th. Photo Courtesy of Eily Marlow.
Lucy Forster-Smith’s last day will be Feb. 10th. Photo Courtesy of Eily Marlow.

First impressions of the Mac community?

Well, when I first arrived on January 2, 1994, I arrived at a locked door. There was no one around. It was dead in terms of the campus community. I stood at the door for a while, because no one had said to me where to go, I assumed I would arrive and someone would be there to let me in. So I kind of stood there for a while and a rush of worry came over me, partly because I had had the weirdest interview here for any job I’d ever had. They basically told me Macalester was so secular that they didn’t even want a chaplain. So, then it was kind of coming back to me, like maybe they were locking me out! (laughs) Well it must’ve been ten minutes later when the secretary came and opened the door for me. So when I came into the space it wasn’t renovated as it is now, it was really kind of shabby. And I don’t mean it to sound overly negative because it really wasn’t, but it really felt depressing because it was dead, it was cold, there was no one around.

First impressions before that though, were when I came to interview, because it wasn’t one of those interviews where they were trying to woo me in. They were almost saying to me, “Know that if you come here, basically the role that you are going to play as a religious figure is probably not going to be very well received.” But there was a moment when one of the students spoke up and she said something like, “You know, we need a chaplain. This is a really challenging world, and we need someone who can be present in our lives and support us, and be able to actualize our potential and help us connect to the world. I am looking for someone who can be a religious guide to me.” And then I was just like, “Woah. That’s my call.” It was incredible.

How did you integrate into the community?

I think what happens on a campus like this, and I will take this to Harvard, is that once you create some trust and connection with students, and I have seen it through Lives of Commitment and all these other communities, is that once people realize they can trust you the word spreads, especially on a small campus. So I think what happened was that once people felt they could trust me, word spread from there.

How do you best serve the Mac community? In a very secularly-minded place like Macalester, what have you found to be the best way to best connect with the students?

A couple things come to mind. One is trust. I think in a place like Macalester one of the most important aspects of being a chaplain is to build trust. And probably the place where trust was built most publicly was when 9/11 happened.

A chaplain is an interesting role, because you are part of the administration, but you are also serving a religious role, so I often describe it as working on an edge. On the edge of an institution in a way that you are always standing in two worlds. So when something really scary happens and there are calamities, students know people who have been affected by the situation, and that’s when my work is the most tangible but also when I don’t walk in with a religious agenda, I walk in with an agenda to be a compassionate presence in people’s lives. And a lot of it is just me facilitating you listening to yourself.

The other thing that is so powerful for me over these years is the multifaith piece. The engagement across religious traditions, and I love that the Multifaith Council is a student group. It’s not run by a group of religious leaders, it’s run by students who come together to be in dialogue about their faiths and learn not only about other traditions, but deeply about their own traditions and for me that has been the most delightful aspect of my work over the years.

How many students are involved with CRSL things?

This is an interesting question. When you count up all the types of programs and organizations like MJO, Sitting at Mac or Compassionate Conversations, it’s probably a third of our students who walk through the door.

Larger than I think people perceive.

Yes, I think it’s larger. Granted there is some overlap, but it’s more dynamic than people think.

How have you seen the community grow?

I wouldn’t say that it is a straight line growth. When KP was here there was a lot of energy in the CRSL and he would do a lot of one-on-ones with students and be invited to speak at events on campus, so at that point there was a lot of energy around the CRSL. But I think our growth is more tied to student energy, so when students are excited about something it energizes this place. We (the CRSL) don’t have huge programs that we do, like the CEC does with Bonner or LoC, so we almost wait for student energy. I think it’s a wonderful model because if a student has a great idea there is room for that to grow and flourish. There’s a lot of latitude. It’s a permeable community.

Talk about your book, what inspired you to write it?

There are actually two. The one that came out recently is a collaborative effort. Because of the Lilly Project at Macalester, I began to realize that when students began to think about ministry, there were very few resources for people who wanted to do this work. So I called up the Lilly Foundation, and asked a person there I knew if he could help me brainstorm some ideas for a book about my time being a chaplain at Macalester. I thought it was going to be a five minute conversation, but it ended up being a 45 minute conversation and he was very excited not only about my memoir, but also about a collaborative effort. The collaborative book is out and my memoir will probably be done by the end of February, and I am hoping we will be able to do a book launch here next fall.

What inspired you to write them?

The timing of this question is perfect. I actually got an email the other day from a former student who is now in rabbinical school, and after reading the book, she said that it really reminded her that she wants to be a rabbi on a campus, that she wanted to do chaplaincy on a college campus.

And the reason I spent the time gathering all these narratives, is because this book is not a very academic book about the field, it’s about what we do and who we are. And what our hope, what my hope, is that the book will inspire people to go into the field and pursue this type of work.

Lucy Forster-Smith gathers with the Multifaith Council at a party held in her honor.   Photo courtesy of Asad Zaidi.
Lucy Forster-Smith gathers with the Multifaith Council at a party held in her honor.
Photo courtesy of Asad Zaidi.

What are you looking forward to at Harvard?

I am looking forward to what I love doing here, which is working with students. But one of the new aspects of the new job is that they have about 30 chaplains, people who aren’t hired by the university, but people who are hired by their own denominations and work on behalf of their religious traditions, and they connect a bit, but there isn’t as much of a multifaith chaplaincy collaboration. So what I want to do is not only form a connection between them, but also get students more involved in the multifaith world.

The other interesting thing about Harvard that doesn’t happen here, is that they do a Sunday morning worship service in a Protestant tradition every week. So that’s a new part of my job because I have never been a pastor of a congregation, and I will be a pastor to 200 regular attendees and students. So it’s kind of a very different experience for me.

Any things you will miss about Mac?

There’s a lot that I will miss about Mac. I think the most remarkable thing about this institution are the students, and that sounds cliche because a lot of people say it, but I really mean it. I always say to people that you don’t know how good you are. I think there is a certain humility about the students here. You are very smart and you are very committed and such global citizens. While you’re here, your view is thick and wide and full and vast and there is this a sense that you don’t know how good you are and what you are going to contribute, and for me that’s something that I’ll miss the most.

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