This past Tuesday, Macalester’s Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL) welcomed Pastor Grant Stevensen as the new interim chaplain to temporarily fill the space left behind by Lucy Forster-Smith and KP Hong.
“I think he’s here through mid-May,” Lilly Program Associate Eily Marlow said. “It’ll be nice to have someone here.”
Stevensen was selected by the CRSL among two other final candidates. Students had a role in the selection process as well, meeting with each candidate to have a conversation and listen to their thoughts on religion, faith and what each could best do to serve Macalester’s diverse religious community.
“After meeting with each candidate, we filled [out] a form to articulate whether we thought they were ready to lead Vespers, lead the Multifaith Council and guide students in general,” said Ronit Zemel ’15, the student leader of the Macalester Jewish Organization. Candidates also met with Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre, Dean of Multicultural Life Chris MacDonald-Dennis, and Associate Dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship Karen Trail-Johnson, among others.
“First of all, we were looking for someone who would be compatible with the environment of Macalester College, someone who had a personality that would fit that and someone who had multifaith experiences,” said Asad Zaidi ’15, a member of the Multifaith Council and treasurer of the Muslim Student Association.
Stevensen previously worked as the pastor of St. Matthews Lutheran Church in St. Paul and is the former director of the faith department with Minnesotans United.
“I’ve also been really active in the Isaiah organization,” Stevensen said, describing Isaiah as “100 congregations committed to social, racial and economic justice.” He is also currently involved with the Spirit of Truth Faith Community.
“Spirit of Truth…was really developed for people who aren’t so comfortable with regular church,” Stevensen said, and quoted the community’s slogan: “Love is at the center of creation, and justice is the public expression of love.”
“He’s done so much political and legislative work,” Marlow said. “The hope is we’ll be able to utilize some of his experience in being a clergy who has worked so closely with important justice movements and really engaged his faith to bring about some change…I think we can capitalize on those gifts but I think he’ll have his hands full just holding everything together.”
‘Hit the ground running’
Stevensen expressed excitement at being able to work with such a talented and inquisitive community as Macalester.
“[They’re] a little scary-smart,” he said of the students that he had met. “I enjoy that feeling. I enjoy people who are quick and who are very curious.”
For Stevensen, being asked to interview at Macalester “was really exciting for me because working with college students…it’s the smartest group of people to be around.”
Stevensen will be taking over the Vespers services on Sunday evenings, working with the Multifaith Council, providing pastoral care to students, and supporting CRSL student orgs and their programming.“He’s going to have to hit the ground running,” Zaidi said.
While his office hours have yet to be established, Stevensen said that he was “very available for appointments.”
“I don’t think our spiritual lives are limited to a day in a week,” Stevensen said. “I think that our spiritual lives are integrated throughout our whole week or day, throughout all of our activities.”
He expressed that one of the things that attracted him to Macalester was the religious diversity that the school harbors.
“One thing that’s really cool about Macalester and this location is the way that people come from different religious experiences,” he said. “I’m really excited to be here.”
Students and CRSL staff commented on Stevensen’s easy-going attitude.
“He is very easy to talk to, and one of the things Macalester community feels as a loss, when we lost Lucy and KP for example, is that there are less people to talk to on campus because they would always have their door open,” Zaidi said. “Grant seems like he could be that kind of person.”
“He’s just a really laid-back guy, very approachable,” Marlow said. “He has a deep sense of clarity around his convictions but told some stories that spoke about working across religious and political difference that showed a lot of humility.’
Marlow mentioned that it would also be very beneficial “to have an outside eye on the CRSL” in the midst of the rapid changes that the center has gone through in the past year.
Student Involvement, Search Continues
The search for a long-term chaplain will continue throughout the semester, with talks like the recent “Under the Bus or On the Open Road” to help the CRSL define the sort of person they are looking for and the future of the CRSL.
At the “Under the Bus” talk, students who are not as active in the religious or spiritual life on campus still showed up to express support for the CRSL’s programming.
“A lot of people who aren’t active in a religious org here look to the CRSL,” said Rabbi Barry Cytron. “They want something that isn’t rock-hard and solid. Even for the ironic, smart Macalester [student] who is post-modern and not involved in that sort of stuff,” there are still aspects of the CRSL that appeal to them.
“This is kind of a one-horse show,” Cytron said of campus norms. “I think the students turn to a place they can get on a different pony.”
“Cytron also mentioned that students will definitely be involved in the process of finding a long-term chaplain for the CRSL.
“Students, I think, would say that they’re not at this point fearful that the CRSL is going to be thrown under the bus,” Cytron said.
For now, Stevensen is here to step in a provide a support to CRSL staff and the general student body.
“The rhythm of this place needs to continue on through the school year,” Stevensen said. “It’s exciting to spend some time here.”