Keeping the faith
Money woes threaten the future of chaplaincy at an historic Kingston church that helps serve the spiritual and mental health needs of the campus community. A group of determined volunteers is seeking a solution.
The historic limestone church at the corner of Union and Arch Streets has served the campus community since the University’s very beginning. St. James’ Anglican Church, which is, in fact, as old as Queen’s itself, has actively guided the spiritual lives of students, faculty, staff, and alumni for almost 175 years.
“We like to say that Queen’s grew up in our backyard,” says Rev. Valerie Michaelson, Associate Anglican Priest, whose main role is serving Queen’s students as chaplain. “We were here when Queen’s was formed, have gone through two world wars together, and witnessed Queen’s moving from its roots as a small theological college to a secular university with international status.”
Today, in a move to ensure stable funding for the Queen’s chaplaincy, the Anglican Diocese of Ontario has established an endowment fund, with the express purpose of providing financial support for outreach to students through worship, activities, and pastoral care.
Two long-time supporters of the Christian community on campus, Prof. Emerita Marguerite Van Die (History and Religion) and Prof. Bob Crawford, (Computing), have spearheaded the formation of the Anglican Chaplaincy at Queen’s University Endowment Fund.
Crawford, who has taught and worked in administrative capacities at Queen’s for almost 42 years and is due to “officially” retire come December, has long seen the wisdom of making spiritual guidance available to students. However, he became acutely aware of the need to do so during his 10-year tenure as Dean of Student Affairs (1995-2005). Now that he’s returned to teaching, which is his first love, he sees that students continue to seek out a spiritual life. This is proven by the numerous faith-group gatherings that occur on campus.
“The report of the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health clearly recognizes religion and faith as important elements in the lives of many Queen’s students,” he says. “We know that faith communities enrich campus life, and there’s hard evidence to indicate they also enhance the mental health of individual students.”
Being on the frontline, Valerie Michaelson agrees. “Some students come here because the Anglican Church is their religious tradition. But many come without that affiliation and are seeking answers to some of life’s big questions; they’re trying to make sense of things and what it means to be human,” she says.
Michaelson stresses that she is not a counselor, pointing out that Queen’s has excellent mental health care and counseling services on campus, to which she sometimes refers students. Yet, she believes that the St. James chaplain is very much part of the conversation about mental health and can play a key role for some students. “Students tell me they get something different here. There are places on campus for care for your physical health, your social health and your emotional health. Here we offer a place for spiritual health, which is equally important,” she explains.
In addition to regular worship services, St. James runs an intern leadership program for students who want to grow in the ministry. During exam period, parishioners prepare “heaps of food” for study-weary students. Music is played; coffee is served; healthy food is eaten, and students then go on their way to the library and study halls to prepare for exams. During times of crisis, such as a death of a student on campus, or a global disaster – such as the 2011 tsunami in Japan – the Church has an emergency plan in place for students who need extra support.
Marguerite Van Die hopes to reach out to all those alumni who have had a connection to St. James when they were students. “Many alumni have benefited from the services of St. James Church while they were students,” she says. “We want to let them know that those services are still available each year to a new crop of students. “The endowment fund will ensure that we can offer them for years to come.”
Recently, the Anglican Archdiocese of Ontario, a long-time financial supporter, had to end its annual grant of $10,000. Crawford and Van Die hope to build a sufficiently large endowment to replace this and thus generate enough annual income to secure the current position of a part-time chaplain and cover small expenses.
For more information about the St. James chaplaincy initiative, please visit www.stjamesqueens.ca.