University of the Ozarks will launch a new chaplaincy program, the Ozarks Collegiate Parish (OCP), in January as part of an emphasis to enhance religious life on campus.
The OCP is a cooperative ministry with First Presbyterian Church of Clarksville and Harmony Presbyterian Church and is designed as a residency program for newly ordained pastors.
The University has also contracted with the Interfaith Youth Core to work with the Student Life Office and the Chaplain’s Office to conduct a year-long assessment and strategic plan for religious life on campus. With the help of a grant from the Synod of the Sun, IFYC led an assessment program in the fall that gauged attitudes, perspectives, aspirations, and ideas from students, faculty and staff.
The efforts to enhance religious life on campus coincide with the recent major renovations of Munger-Wilson Chapel, the spiritual heart of the university.
"There are some exciting initiatives going on around campus in the area of religious life," said Ozarks President Richard Dunsworth. "We’ve got a beautifully renovated Chapel, an exciting new chaplaincy program and we’re exploring other ways to deepen the spiritual and ethical life of the campus. We want to provide a nurturing environment where individuals can grow in their own unique religious traditions and where students have opportunities to be involved in extending worship, service, love and fellowship throughout the Ozarks campus as well as the greater community."
The Rev. Dr. Robert William Lowry will serve as the Ozarks Collegiate Parish’s lead minister and dean of the Chapel. Lowry currently serves as pastor at both Harmony Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church in Clarksville.
"In a nutshell, what we are doing is taking two models for ministry, taking the most effective parts of them, adding strong resources and institutional commitment, and making a new thing out of them," Lowry said. "We are using the traditional model of a senior pastor to fill the role of the lead pastor. In that person is vested the role of head of staff in the congregations and dean of the Chapel at the university. This is the person who preaches on Sundays primarily, supervises the staff, and fulfills the traditional chaplain’s roles of teaching and presiding as ecclesiastical representative of the university at formal occasions."
Lowry said the resident pastors will be fresh out of seminary and will serve staggered three-year terms both on campus and in the two local churches.
"During those three years they will experience all of the ups and downs of ministry, but they do it in a place that is designed especially for young clergy," Lowry said. "There is an unwritten rule that this is the place you come to try new things and even make some mistakes and grow as a pastor. For the residents, the advantage is an environment where they can fully live into their ordained ministry and have the space to be really creative and try new things. For the church and campus, the advantage is that every few years we get fresh blood in the system. Those new residents bring with them ideas and perspectives. So while residents who are finishing the program take what they have learned out to serve the larger church, the new residents bring their energy and newness into the system at Ozarks. Everybody wins."
Lowry said the first resident pastor is expected to begin in the Spring of 2016. He said Ozarks students will benefit from the new program.
"By moving to this model, we are essentially adding a second full chaplain position to the university," Lowry said. "The dean of the Chapel will be one-third time at the university while the residents are each 80 percent time there. This will allow both the traditional role of chaplain as teacher and overall spiritual leader to be fulfilled and the important work of student formation that can only be done with a larger chaplain staff. By moving to this model, we have the benefits of a chaplaincy that is usually available only to schools three and four times larger than our own."
Lowry added that, "the new model is a big investment in spiritual life and it demonstrates that the campus is a place where spiritual formation is a priority in every way---in our mission, in our structure, and in our allocation of our resources."
The Rev. Dr. Robert William Lowry will serve as the lead minister and dean of Chapel in Ozarks’ new chaplaincy program, the Ozarks Collegiate Parish.