University News

New Protestant chaplain hopes to serve all students

Contributing Writer
Thursday, September 20, 2012

Associate University Chaplain for the Protestant Community Rev. Kirstin Boswell-Ford joined the Office of Chaplains and Religious Life this summer after being hired in mid-May. 

“It all started with an email,” Boswell-Ford said. “I saw the position posted, and it seemed a phenomenal fit.” But the hiring process that followed was not quite as simple – “it was a pretty grueling process,” she said.

The search process for a new chaplain began in March. A description of the job was circulated through numerous emails and publications, and a committee was created to read through the applications and then choose a finalist. The search committee included University Chaplain Rev. Janet Cooper Nelson, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Africana Studies Corey Walker and Associate University Chaplain for the Roman Catholic Community Henry Bodah, among others. After numerous interviews, three finalists were brought to the University in early May.

The search committee was specifically seeking a candidate with a love for education as well as an innate ability to connect with others, Cooper Nelson said. 

“We hoped for a leader who would have real traction with the whole Brown community,” Cooper Nelson added. “We decided (Boswell-Ford) meets our hopes.”

Boswell-Ford “made a good impression, being an articulate person of education with a calm kindness,” Bodah said.  

The new chaplain hails from Beachwood, Ohio. She later moved to Cleveland and then to London, where she attended high school. Religion was a central focus for Boswell-Ford throughout her childhood, both in the U.S. and abroad, she said.

Her family visited a variety of houses of worship and witnessed different demonstrations of faith, she said.”I gained a bigger appreciation for the breadth and depth of religion,” she added.

This appreciation of religion permeated her professional life. Boswell-Ford worked as a director of operations for the International Association of Black Religions and Spiritualities, a nonprofit in Chicago, Ill. She also worked as the Protestant chaplain at Bentley University in Massachusetts. 

As part of her transition to the University this fall, Boswell-Ford has given public talks and preached in Manning Chapel. 

“There was a sense of comfort right from the beginning,” Boswell-Ford said. “The environment is one where there seems to be a great deal of care for students, staff and faculty.”

As chaplain, she will serve as a support system for the student body. The Office of Chaplains and Religious Life provides assistance and advising for students with and without religious backgrounds.

“I think one thing that’s very important is that people are encouraged and free to stop by, even if they’re not Protestant, not any of the religions in this hall or not even religious,” Boswell-Ford said. “This is a space for everyone.”

Being a chaplain comes with several challenges, as accommodating the variety of beliefs at the University can prove a difficult task. 

“Our task is to try to wrap our arms in care around the Brown family without knowing what will be needed,” Cooper Nelson said.

Due to the perpetuation of stereotypes and a lack of knowledge regarding different beliefs, another challenge chaplains face is to increase religious literacy among the University community, Cooper Nelson added. 

“Religion is put in a special category, as if religious people are doing something more biased or narrow,” she explained. The task, she said, is to “let everyone know this is their home.”

One way the office plans to tackle the problem this semester is through the “B Literate: Religion” project, which provides “a chance to explain questions, boundaries and a way of thinking from the inside of another way of thinking,” Cooper Nelson said. “The hope is that we can move beyond belittling conversations to ‘what’s going on here?'”

With the addition of Boswell-Ford, the office hopes to strengthen its role as a support mechanism for students. “We are hoping her impact will be salutary,” Cooper Nelson said. “We are hoping her impact will be on whole community.”

“I’m most looking forward to growing relationships with students and colleagues,” Boswell-Ford said. “I’ve already met such amazing people I deeply respect. … I’m always excited for what the day may bring.”

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