Non-denominational chaplain appointed

OISE Open House

Kate Johnson assumes position of campus chaplain following the retirement of Brian Yealland in June

Kate Johnson was appointed to the position of Chaplain on Aug. 19.
Kate Johnson was appointed to the position of Chaplain on Aug. 19.
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Kate Johnson is the first female chaplain at Queen’s, and the first not to identify as Christian.

Johnson, who identifies as a Quaker, started her work on Aug 19. She replaces Brian Yealland, who retired last June after 32 years of service.

After Yealland announced his retirement last November, the University opened a discussion on whether or not to keep the chaplain position.

The Chaplain’s office provides spiritual guidance, religious services and accommodations for religious groups on campus.

During the procurement process, the Division of Student Affairs, which oversees the Chaplain’s office, received input from the AMS, SGPS, and faith-based groups

on campus.

The Chaplain’s office provides support to a number of religious organizations, such as Four Directions Aboriginal Centre, the Geneva Fellowship, and the Queen’s University Muslim Students Association.

Roxy Denniston-Stewart, the assistant dean of Student Affairs, told the Journal via email that student groups overwhelmingly opted to keep the position.

“The response clearly indicated that the Queen’s community recognizes the important role the Chaplain plays in providing support and guidance to students,” she said.

Denniston-Stewart said Kate Johnson’s background as a Quaker had little to do with her hiring, besides proving that she was accountable to a faith community.

She said Johnson’s experience as a chaplain and a spiritual counselor were far more important, as was her knowledge of a wider variety of faiths. “Kate met all the qualifications and more,” she said. “We are thrilled that she accepted the role.”

Kate Johnson said Quakers believe everyone has their own way of understanding God and spirituality.

“There are lots of Christians in my church, but there are also lots of Jews, Buddhists and atheists,” she said.

Johnson said scripture takes second place to everyday life in the Quaker understanding of spirituality.

“We primarily draw from lived experience,” she said. “God reveals God’s self through everyday life.” She said the open-minded nature of her religion will help her connect with the variety of religious groups on campus.

As a chaplain, she said, her job is to help students explore their spirituality and support them through crises of faith without imposing any of her own values on them.

Johnson added that the Chaplain’s office will also support students who want to let go of their faith.

“People have freedom to practice their religions, as well as freedom from religion,” she said. Today many Canadians grow up without any formal religious upbringing, she said, but there’s still demand for alternative forms of spirituality.

The popularity of yoga is a good example, Johnson said. For many people, she said, it brings a sense of inner peace which can be described as spiritual.

“It’s about learning how to be quiet, feeling connected with ourselves and giving our spirits a break from the pressures of the world,” she said.

Johnson has worked as a social worker in the youth offender system and as a chaplain for adult Correctional Services.

She said her experiences in Correctional Services taught her not to judge people on first impressions.

“People make a lot of sense when you know their whole story,” Johnson said.

Everyone has hidden strengths, she said, and listening closely helps her find them. In the same way, she said she looks forward to helping students discover their potential as they progress through university.

“I’m super stoked about celebrating that stuff with people,” she said.

Johnson said there is still a place for chaplains in secular institutions like Queen’s.

According to Johnson, under international law all institutions with total care of a person must provide access to spiritual services.

She added that an on-site chaplain keeps up the quality of access to spiritual resources and prevents “fringe predatory groups” from moving in.

“There is religious predation, we call them cults,” she said. “They sometimes move in where there is a vacuum.”

Moreover, she said, acknowledging the spiritual needs of students improves their quality of life.

“I think it makes people feel cared for in a fuller kind of way,” she said.

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Corrections

September 4, 2013

This story’s photo credit has been updated to reflect the following clarification: the photo was supplied, not taken by Colin Tomchick.

The Journal regrets the error.

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