The Rev. Rachel C. Kessler ’04, who returned to Kenyon last semester as chaplain and priest to Harcourt Parish Episcopal Church, talks about her transition, her purpose in Gambier and why spirituality is important to the liberal arts.
Q: How does it feel to be back at Kenyon as chaplain instead of a student?
A: It is sort of a mirror image of your experience as a student and a different side of campus life. But it also feels like coming home. It feels like I’m in a place where I belong. I think my husband [Leeman Tarpley Kessler ’04] feels the same way.
Q: Did you ever think you would come back to Kenyon?
A: I totally wanted to. My dream was to teach at a small liberal arts college. I just never anticipated I would be coming back in this role. Life is interesting.
Q: How does serving as a chaplain at a small college and a priest at a small village parish compare to serving a big city parish?
A: When I was in Toronto [at Grace Church on-the-Hill], I was in a large multi-staff parish right downtown. In a big city, we see people on Sundays when they’re around at church, but otherwise they kind of disappear into the mass of urban life. It’s much harder to build those daily relationships and be part of the rhythm of a community life together. Here, there is this ability to be part of people’s lives, which is what I love about being a priest and being a pastor.
Q: Can you describe your position? What exactly does a chaplain do?
A: I have a particular role with respect to this Episcopal community of Harcourt Parish. I also have a larger role within the wider campus community to provide personal and spiritual support — however broadly defined — for all members of this community, whether that be students, staff, or just people in the neighborhood. If you just need someone to talk to but don’t feel like you’re dealing with issues that need to be dealt with at the counseling center, or if you just need to chat about how things are going and need someone who can be a friend, that’s what I’m here to do.
Q: What are you most excited about in your new role?
A: What’s so exciting about this position is that I’m coming into it in conjunction with the establishment of the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life. Having the opportunity to work with Marc Bragin, who is the Jewish chaplain and the director of Hillel, gives us a really fascinating opportunity to bring issues of spirituality into this larger liberal arts conversation about how we are formed as whole people. Spirituality is a really huge part of that conversation and I think it often gets neglected.
Q: You started “Chat with the Chaplains” with Marc Bragin on Tuesday mornings at Peirce. How is that going?
A: We don’t always have huge flocks of people lining up to eat breakfast with us, but we’ve also never eaten breakfast with just the two of us. I hope just seeing Marc there in his yarmulke and me there in my collar sends the message of that interfaith witness and that the two of us have a relationship with each other living out our respective faiths in this community. It’s also just a chance to be where the students are, to see what’s going on and to chat however briefly with different students on campus.