After six and a half years at Ozarks, University Chaplain Rev. Nancy J. Benson-Nicol will bid the University farewell when she moves on to her new position at the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Benson-Nicol, or as she is affectionately known at Ozarks, Reverend Nancy, will be the new associate for gender and racial justice at the Presbyterian Mission Agency in Louisville, Ky.
"Generally speaking, I will be equipping individuals and groups to bear witness to the fact that all God’s children are created in God’s image," Benson-Nicol explained. "Specifically, that means advancing the denomination’s commitment to promoting gender and racial justice. I will be using the denomination’s specific curriculum to host anti-racism training as well as teaching others to host those workshops along with revising that curriculum as needed."
Benson-Nicol’s new position comes about as a direct result of her life and ministry, reflecting the type of open-minded spiritual guidance she has offered at Ozarks these past six years.
"One of the things I have always been called to do is dialogue across difference, because so much of my personal life is made up of many differences," Benson-Nicol said. "In my hometown in Pennsylvania, I have always been one of the few people of color, as well as being a mainline protestant in a conservative evangelical school from fifth to twelfth grade. Situations like that have required me to learn how to navigate differences, but I’ve had meaningful relationships across all those spectrums, which has really enriched my life."
Benson-Nicol is proud to have spent the last six and half years sharing her philosophy with Ozarks.
"I am filled with gratitude for all of the ways in which God has spoken and moved through my being in ministry at Ozarks," she said. "One of the things unique to my ministry at Ozarks was to help everyone be conscious of students and individuals that come from perspectives other than Christian. I wanted to encourage people to root themselves in their Christian faith while recognizing that bearing witness to the Christian faith happens in conversation with others in the community."
Benson-Nicol, while confident that this new position is a part of her calling, will miss her Ozarks family.
"I will miss the students at Ozarks," she said. "There won’t be as structured an opportunity for pastoral care in my new position. I will miss receiving the gifts of people trusting me with their deepest questions about God or about anything. I considered it a real gift to be present with people who shared deep and profound things that were going on with them, which often didn’t have anything to do with faith or doctrine."
University Chaplain Rev. Nancy Benson-Nicol (right) listens as the Rev. Dr. William Galbraith, general presbyter of the Presbytery of Arkansas, praises her work at University of the Ozarks during a farewell reception for Benson-Nicol on Jan. 23. She recently accepted a position with the Presbyterian Mission Agency in Louisville, Ky.
While there will never be another Reverend Nancy, the university has commenced the process of making sure that all chaplain duties are covered.
"Reverend Nancy Benson-Nicol is an energetic, intelligent, and gifted person, minister, and chaplain," said University Provost Dr. Dan Taddie. "During her six and a half years here at Ozarks, she significantly strengthened the role of the chaplain, both on campus and in the larger denomination, through continuous outreach and programming. She brought the role of the chaplain into the heart of the campus. We wish her many blessings in her new calling, but we will miss her."
According to Taddie, the university has already begun the search for an interim chaplain who will lead worship, provide pastoral care, work with campus religious organizations, and offer religious and spiritual programming.
"Our plan is to launch, this fall, a discernment process that will involve the entire university community with the goal of calling a new university chaplain who will start in the summer of 2014," Taddie explained.
And as her days at Ozarks wind down, Benson-Nicol offers a final piece of advice for her Ozarks family.
"I think that Ozarks should not be afraid to strive for excellence," she said. "Sometimes, that can be a scary prospect, but I John says that God is love and a perfect love casts out fear. I think that if Ozarks can remember that its greatest asset is love, then that should cast out the fear of daring to strive for excellence."