Students, admin discuss future of chaplain position

Current University Chaplain Brian Yealland will retire in June.
Current University Chaplain Brian Yealland will retire in June.
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The University is seeking student input about the future of the Chaplain’s office at Queen’s.

This month, Student Affairs began consulting campus stakeholders — mostly student societies and faith-based groups on campus — to see if the University should keep the position. 

The process was initiated after the University’s current chaplain, Brian Yealland, announced his plans to retire in June after 30 years of service. A decision will be made prior to the 2013-14 academic year.

“At this point in time we’re just in the starting the process and really what we’ve asked for is input from a wide variety of [groups], such as the AMS and SGPS, as well as individual and deans department heads,” said Roxy Denniston-Stewart, associate dean of student affairs at Queen’s.

Student Affairs has requested input from faculty and staff and the University has plans to meet individually with different faith-based campus groups, she said. 

“There’s a very broad range of support that the [chaplain’s] office has provided over the years as well as participating in a number of University functions,” she said. “We believe or hope that we’ll communicate with all members of the community to get a wide opinion.”

The University chaplain is meant to offer spiritual guidance to students from a variety of different faiths, as well as conducting outreach initiatives and wedding and funeral services. Most major Canadian universities employ at least one chaplain.

Currently, the Chaplain’s office provides resources to a number of different campus groups, including the Four Directions Aboriginal Centre, the Geneva Fellowship, Queen’s Hillel, Queen’s University Muslim Students Association and numerous AMS religious clubs.

After graduating from Queen’s Theological College in 1972, Yealland was ordained in the United Church of Canada.

He took the position at Queen’s in 1983 after working in Kingston correctional facilities for 11 years. He said the nature of his position has evolved greatly over the years.

“It’s quite different than the way it was 30 years ago,” he said. “People were much more observant of tradition then and now you don’t really expect that from people, especially in a secular community, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interested in keeping it.”

He said he thinks the University needs to take a look at whether the position is still valuable to the community.

“I would think that one of the voices out there at the moment would say that in this day in age we can surely do without a chaplain or a religious person of any kind,” he said. “Is it worth keeping the position, or should [they] try and save money.”

Despite this, he said he thinks the University still needs to maintain support with different religious groups on campus.

“Our office has had a very strong place looking after students and that’s something the University should maintain,” he said. “You don’t want to lose resources in that area for these students ... nowadays, we have a much greater diversity of religious backgrounds in our students who are encouraged to be open and celebrative of their faith.”

Mira Dineen, AMS vice president of university affairs, said the AMS will meet with faith-based campus groups for consultation.

“We also had a discussion at AMS council and we concluded to get in touch with groups who are more likely to interact with this position,” Dineen, ArtSci ’11 said.

Despite this, the AMS has no official opinion on whether to keep the position, she said, adding that the AMS is redirecting their consultation process to Student Affairs.

“We aren’t really doing the leading, but reaching out to AMS clubs on behalf of Student Affairs,” she said.

Mirza Tahir Ahmed, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Student Association, said the Chaplain’s office is vital to maintain respect for religious diversity on campus.

“All religious communities should support that there should be one guy who plays a neutral role among all of them,” Ahmed, PhD ’14, said. “The position is valuable because while it promotes the differences of different religions on campus, it also joins them based on those differences.”

“We need to have dialogues with each other and discover our common interests and we need somebody who will promote that and religious equality at Queen’s.”

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