As Willamette College’s chaplain, Karen Wooden recommended grieving college students, made lawyer jokes at graduation and shepherded a program to assist college students discover a path ahead after school primarily based on their values and spirituality.
Karen Wooden, Willamette College chaplain, will retire in July 2021 (Courtesy/Willamette College)
For over a decade, Karen Wooden, the chaplain at Willamette College, has had a difficult process: addressing a whole bunch of college, college students and their household from completely different religion traditions (or none in any respect) in a significant manner with out offending or alienating anybody.
As she prepares to retire, Wooden, 63, stated humor is essential to managing this precarious balancing act. She’s not above a lawyer joke at graduation to guide right into a extra severe recognition of the laborious work college students and their households have put in.
“One 12 months, I identified that college students might need known as out God’s title once they noticed the value of their textbooks,” Wooden recalled of a speech on the legislation college graduation. “For me, it’s simply actually enjoyable.”
Her work contains organizing vigils for college kids who’ve died, providing recommendation to colleagues and assembly one on one with those that are struggling or determining their very own religious path.
“She fairly actually is simply the guts and soul of the Willamette group,” stated Don Thomson, director of Willamette’s Bishop Wellness Heart. “She’s there within the good instances, she’s there within the unhealthy instances. She is the regular calming affirming sort presence via all of it.”
Wooden stated she realized it was time to retire whereas backpacking in Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness over the summer time. She’s had requests from family and friends to commit extra time to these relationships. She stated one thing clicked whereas she was considering her future within the alpine meadows.
“There’s a sure seduction about chaplaincy. You get to really feel wanted, you get to hang around with younger folks,” she stated. “I didn’t need anybody to suppose, ‘Yeah she stayed somewhat too lengthy.’”
Wooden, a minister within the United Church of Christ, stated she lengthy supposed to grow to be a school chaplain however took a meandering path to Willamette College.
After incomes her doctorate in theology from Harvard Divinity Faculty, Wooden served as dean of scholars at Union Theological Seminary in New York, then on the Nationwide Faculty of Pure Drugs in Portland. In these roles, she was generally capable of focus on spirituality with college students, however she stated the work was extra administrative than pastoral.
“I used to be working with all these college students who had been pursuing their ardour and I wasn’t actually pursuing mine,” she stated.
When an affiliate chaplain place at Willamette opened up, she utilized, and got here to campus the in 2002. Her function was a part of a grant to ascertain a theological and religious vocation program to assist college students decide what they wished to do in life by exploring their values.
A lot of her work is behind the scenes on campus, involving conversations with college students or college searching for counsel and lending her perception to committees. Willamette has about 2,000 college students between undergraduate and graduate packages.
These particular person conversations make graduation particularly memorable, she stated.
“After I know the tales of a few of the college students who stroll throughout the stage and the way superbly they’ve navigated a few of these moments,” Wooden stated.
“I’m going to her for recommendation at any time when something tough arises, particularly after I have to examine my very own rising temperature on the door, she’s at all times a cooling affect,” stated Stephen Patterson, a professor of spiritual research.
Wooden teaches part-time within the division, providing a course on liberation theology, a Latin American twentieth century spiritual motion fusing Catholic custom with a concentrate on social points and financial justice. Patterson stated her lessons have usually sparked college students’ curiosity in finding out faith.
Although college students usually search her out in tough moments, Wooden stated offering emotional help to others is one thing she attracts power from.
“It doesn’t drain,” she stated. “There’s power in somebody trusting you to be with them and maintain that synergy and maintain that house. That belief has a constructive power to it.”
In 2012, she turned campus chaplain when her predecessor, Charlie Wallace, retired. Wallace stated the college would usually conduct a nationwide seek for a chaplain function, however selling Wooden was a simple resolution.
The 2 shared a mode of public handle grounded in “oddball invocations,” he stated, prayers or moments of reflection to mark main occasions on campus. He stated that model was a necessity in connecting with folks in a area of the U.S. famed for its low church attendance.
“She definitely was capable of present that humor in public and in addition capable of present and exhibit the significance of justice work and fairness work within the college,” Wallace stated.
Wooden’s humorousness extends to her relationship with colleagues. For years, she’s had an ongoing feud with Thomson over the deserves of Pink Vines versus Twizzlers.
He’s accepted Wooden won’t ever agree along with his view that Twizzlers are little greater than purple candle wax. However it’s commonplace for him to seek out sweet at his desk or in his mailbox.
“She’ll ship me Twizzlers when she needs to rib me somewhat bit and he or she’ll ship me Pink Vines when she needs to ship some kindness my manner,” Thomson stated.
She’s taken further care to help Thomson as he took on the college’s Covid response over the previous 12 months, he stated, a heavy and infrequently disturbing function. He stated Wooden is somebody who “places good again into the world and challenges us all to do the identical. We’d like extra of that proper now.”
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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