Shortly after 2016 commencement, former college chaplain Erica Brown found out her contract was not renewed with Blackburn. According to Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Heidi Heinz, chaplain intern Jennifer Hardin and Chair of Philosophy and Religion Dr. Carter Aikin have been splitting pastoral responsibilities since. Although Aikin will be acting as the ceremonial chaplain, he will also be advising Hardin throughout her internship at Blackburn.
Hardin clarified that she is not a member of faculty or staff, but she is taking on these responsibilities to earn class credit for her master of divinity program through the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. She had her first official meeting with Aikin as her advisor in late August. Regarding her responsibilities, she said, “I am responsible for providing opportunities for spiritual nourishment for the Blackburn community as well as helping discern what the future of religious and spiritual life might look like at Blackburn.”
Heinz hopes by next year the chaplain position will be filled. Her current concerns are what responsibilities should the future chaplain have and what makes sense financially for the college. “Blackburn is not in the financial state for a full time chaplain,” she said. “We’re in the process of examining new mission and vision statements. We are considering the students’ needs when it comes to our decision-making on this position.”
Heinz also noted that the college’s affiliation with the Presbyterian church is loose. According to Heinz, the only financial support Blackburn receives from that church is from donations of church members.
Aikin believes that the faith-based care of a community should be a priority, and although he is assisting in filling the chaplain responsibilities with Hardin, he expressed that it will be a challenge to make sure the campus is taken care of spiritually. “This college needs a full time chaplain to provide the spiritual care this campus needs,” he said.
Students have expressed concern about the absence. Accounting major John Aden was introduced to Brown at orientation events during his freshman year (fall 2014). He added that he got to know her personally his sophomore year during Worship Wednesday gatherings.
“Erica allowed me to express my faith in a way that was genuine to me. She respected me enough to let me journey through faith on my own terms,” Aden said. “I am deeply disappointed that Erica’s contract was not renewed. It is truly a disservice to the Blackburn community to not have someone like her around to enrich our college experiences and to help us grow as individuals.” He added that issues of faith are vital in determining who we are and believes without a chaplain, many people will not have someone with whom they are comfortable discussing faith.
Brown was contacted and said that she didn’t feel comfortable discussing the details of her departure at this time. “All I can really tell you is my contract was not renewed,” she said.
Even though Blackburn no longer has a full time chaplain, there are a few organizations and activities on campus for students’ spiritual enrichment. These include coloring and learning about different faith traditions every other Monday at 6 p.m. in the Mahan Atrium; Worship Wednesdays every week at 9 p.m. in Clegg Chapel on the second floor of Hudson Hall; and Cardinal Directions to Life Paths*, which meets every Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Lumpkin Learning Commons to discuss different belief systems and life questions.
*The author of this article is the president of Cardinal Directions to Life Paths.