Campus Faces

Once again, David Bennett, the new chaplain for the College and Seminary, finds himself following J. Christian Giesler.

He was two years behind Giesler at the Seminary. (Giesler is Class of ’83 and ’86, Bennett ’88.) When Giesler moved out of his student apartment on Main Street, Bennett and his wife, Connie, moved in. When Bennett needed a part-time job, he took over from Giesler at the College’s Media Center. And now he’s succeeded Giesler, who has become director of youth ministry for the Eastern District of the Moravian Church in America, as Moravian’s chaplain.

“I’ve told him to quit moving,” Bennett said cheerfully.
A chaplain in a secular age at a formerly sectarian college might seem, to some, to be an anachronism. The job description includes everything from leading worship services to pronouncing invocations and benedictions. The chaplain also serves as a gateway for troubled students: “He might be the front door” to a student in need of professional counseling, as Bennett describes it.

But the mission that underlies all his public tasks is also the mission of the College. “Students come here to explore,” he said. “It’s very important that there be an environment that supports them on their journey.”
Bennett was raised in the Moravian church in the southern Illinois town of West Salem. Though he took his undergraduate degree in math education at Eastern Illinois University, he realized before he left college—while involved with Tar Hollow, the Moravian summer camp in Ohio—that he wanted to become a pastor.

After an internship in clinical pastoral counseling at Lehigh Valley Hospital, he thought he might become a hospital chaplain. But he received a call to a church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and was pastor of two congregations there before moving to Hope, Ind., in 1998.

His congregations have had their differences. But all three, as well as Tar Hollow, have had something in common: teenagers making the difficult transition to adulthood.

“They ask: ‘Who am I? What am I to be? What am I to make of my life?’ ” Bennett said. That, he says, is the great gift of being at college: the freedom to think for themselves, make their own choices, find paths that no one has shown them.

He believes a college chaplain must help create a place in which it’s no disgrace to search for answers, even if one stumbles over them. And many of the questions with which his new flock struggles involve faith and spirituality.

This is as it should be, Bennett feels. “The guy whose statue is out front [Comenius] believed that there was a spiritual dimension to learning,” he said, “and I believe he was right.”

David Bennett