Transgender minister & former prison chaplain arrive on campus

Two new spiritual leaders join Chaplain’s office

Minister Ruth Wood (left) and Chaplain Steve Hoeppler (right) join the Office of the Chaplain.
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Queen’s has hired two new staff for the Chaplain’s office, which the chaplain says will help address the complex religious and spiritual identities in the student body.

Minister Ruth Wood and Chaplain Steve Hoeppner were recently hired to join the Interfaith Chaplain Kate Johnson and Imam Yasin Dwyer.

Minister Ruth Wood began at Queen’s on August 31. Wood, who is transgender and self-identifies as lesbian, said her “lived experience is directly relatable” to students grappling with the concepts of faith, gender and sexuality.

“I was serving in congregational ministry when I began my transition. As such, I needed to be sure of my own theological understanding of sexual and gender diversity,” Wood said.

“I believe that we are all loved by God, as part of God’s beautifully diverse creation.”

She added that anyone who is wrestling with questions of life is welcome in her office.

“Obviously that stance means that I am here for all students regardless of faith [or] no-faith, and regardless of whether or not they are part of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Carmen Soltys, ArtSci ’18, is currently the Chair of the Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP). She said she’s happy to hear of Wood’s appointment. 

“Often in popular media, queer identity and religious identity are presented as irreconcilable, which is not the case,” Soltys told The Journal via Facebook. 

She said she expects Wood will become a resource for students on campus who identify as queer or are struggling with their identity, “whether religious or LGBTQIA+ specific.” 

Chaplain Steve Hoeppner, who started on Sept. 1, says he always hoped to work with young people since he moved to Ontario from British Columbia five years ago. 

“I am particularly interested in engaging Christian students’ questions surrounding what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in a multi-faith and secular context,” Hoeppner said. 

“Christians today find themselves more and more in a minority situation — in essence, returning to their historical roots — and I look forward to helping such students embrace that role.” 

Hoeppner recently left a 10-year role as a prison chaplain within maximum-security provincial and federal prisons. 

He says that his career path has made him familiar with a chaplain’s role in a multi-faith environment. 

“I find that everyone’s search for purpose and meaning is similar in some respects whether that’s in the prison or university context,” he said.

He said he finds immense reward in his profession.

“As a chaplain I’m given the unique privilege of walking alongside individuals on the frontlines of their lives. In other words, during the days of the week not called Sunday.”

According to Chaplain Johnson, the unique qualifications of her new team members will serve the needs of both religious and non-religious students, “in a religiously diverse, but secular, environment.”

She said she believes that ideas of spirituality can include religious beliefs, but also move further into larger concepts around identity. 

Wood and Hoeppner will serve this need, and address the religious and spiritual identities of Queen’s students, she said.

The two join Imam Dwyer, who Johnson said has served Queen’s for close to a decade, following his 12 years as a chaplain for the Correctional Service of Canada. 

According to the National Post, Dwyer “played a major role in developing programs designed to ‘turn’ convicted terrorists who are incarcerated in maximum security at Millhaven penitentiary.”

Johnson is confident in the ability of her team to address the needs of the Queen’s community.

“I am convinced that this team has the pastoral skills and theological training to meet the needs of the broadest possible cross-section of the student population,” she said.

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