Chaplaincy | Web Update

Community installs chaplain during Family Weekend

Published: October 3, 2009, 10:30 pm ET
Collegian Staff

The Rev. Craig Kocher was installed as the university chaplain and Jessie Ball duPont chair of the chaplaincy Saturday night at the Cannon Memorial Chapel.

The chaplain installation service – only the second ever at the University of Richmond – marked the official welcoming of Kocher by the Richmond community and served as an expression of trust in his leadership. Representatives of different faiths and areas of the university joined to perform the service, with Kocher giving a sermon that defined his role as chaplain as “inspiring generous faith; engaging the heart of the university.”

“I see tonight as an opportunity to share a broad vision of what I think the chaplaincy should be here,” said Kocher, defining this vision as cherishing the tradition and history of the chaplaincy and striving to build on them for the future.

The 50-minute service embodied the diversity of faiths that, according to Kocher and associate chaplain Kate O’Dwyer Randall, the chaplaincy is here to embrace and nurture. Seventeen colorful banners recognizing the different representatives of faith on campus lined both sides of the altar, creating an atmosphere of diversity and inclusiveness that attendants said was what had struck them most about the service.

“I didn’t realize there were so many religions on campus as active as they must be,” said Judy Johnson, a member of the chapel guild and 1960 Richmond alumnus, at the dessert reception on the Westhampton Green that followed the service.

Service participants included Kocher; O’Dwyer Randall; President Edward Ayers; representatives from five faith communities within Richmond; singing groups such as Schola Cantorum and the Umoja Gospel Choir; student lectors and university representatives such as Mike London, head football coach and 1983 alumnus.

Kocher reinforced this joint effort in his sermon.

“The chaplaincy will seek to join those who come from all perspectives, of different faiths and no faith, and the many who are not exactly sure what they believe,” he said.

Kocher’s sermon got the chapel laughing with his anecdote of a student asking him whether he was a freshman during his first week on campus. He elaborated on his word choice of inspiring a generous faith “because too often religious leaders have coerced, pushed, prescribed and dictated what faith should be … too often people of faith are … judgmental, mean-spirited and moralistic … (and) faith is an inclusive term.” The second half of his role, engaging the heart of the community, stresses that the university has ethical dimensions, he said.

“I believe the university is more than a spiritless marketplace of ideas and ever-increasing knowledge,” he said. “The purpose of a university if not simply to prepare a workforce; it also functions to shape character.”

Blue-robed choir members led a long procession to begin the service, singing “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” to accompany the organist and quintet playing on elevated levels of the altar. Campus ministers and students continued the procession before Kocher entered with Ayers, who recounted in his welcome the history of the office of the chaplaincy, established in 1973 by Chancellor E. Bruce Heilman, then the university president. The tradition of religious diversity dates back to Richmond’s founding, though, he said, when Robert Ryland, Richmond College’s first president, said that “people of every creed and of no creed have been and will be received on the same terms.”

After O’Dwyer Randall’s opening prayer, five university representatives presented Kocher with gifts from the community after petitions inviting him to, “Be among us … ” Among these was a broken piece of pottery, as a Westhampton student asked Kocher to be “one who listens tenderly when we are broken and guides on in the abundance of God’s love.”

Making the chaplaincy do a better job of sharing the pain of community members when they are broken is one tangible goal in Kocher’s vision to build on the energy of the night, he said at the reception. A second goal is to help the many vibrant campus ministries become more visible and coordinate their resources.

The Umoja Gospel Choir got some attendants clapping before five representatives of the campus’ faith communities – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist – affirmed the call of Kocher as interpreted by their different faiths. Chaplain Emeritus David Burhans, Richmond’s first chaplain, spoke for the Christian community. O’Dwyer Randall closed the service with a prayer, asking God to help Kocher “anchor us in a shared life.”

The installation service showed that the Richmond community has faith in Kocher to be its spiritual leader in a secular community, O’Dwyer Randall said before the ceremony. O’Dwyer Randall, who has returned to her previous position as associate chaplain after filling as acting chaplain during the university’s two-year chaplain search, said she and Kocher would spend the year exploring how they would work together to build a 21st-century chaplaincy.

Kocher, the assistant dean and director of religious life at Duke University, took his position as Richmond’s third official chaplain Aug. 17. The Jessie Ball duPont chair is an endowed position – the chaplain’s salary and the chaplaincy’s programming have been funded to ensure their perpetual role on campus, Kocher said.

Contact staff writer Maura Bogue at

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