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A Future for Faith?

Many King’s staff and community members have been upset since a letter was sent to Dr. Anne Leavitt, president of King’s. Father Dr. Gary Thorne’s boss, Bishop Sue Moxley of the Anglican Dioceses of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, asked Leavitt to strike a Board of Governors committee to reconsider the value of the chapel, and decide how King’s could start paying half of Thorne’s salary.

Father Dr. Gary Thorne stands at the door of the King’s chapel as students leave after the nighttime compline service. After singing and holding candles in the dark, everyone is quiet. Thorne reaches out for each person’s hand and grasps tightly, letting go as they leave. Some stay behind for silent prayer.
It’s these students, along with many King’s staff and community members, who have been upset since a letter was sent on September 8 to Dr. Anne Leavitt, president of King’s.
Thorne’s boss, Bishop Sue Moxley of the Anglican Dioceses of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, sent the letter after a meeting she had with Leavitt to discuss the chaplaincy.
On behalf of the Diocesan Council, the managing committee, Moxley asked Leavitt to strike a Board of Governors committee to reconsider the value of the chapel, and decide how King’s could start paying half of Thorne’s salary.
The letter’s contents leaked to the students within the month.
“These people are making a decision without really realizing who’s being affected,” said Jordan Draper, a chapel member since his first year and now the Sacristan, in charge of preparing for the services.
“For myself as well as for most people I know, you go through some kind of crisis during these years, whether it has to do with your family, or your health, or whatever, and chances are, you don’t have someone you can talk to,” he said after the compline service.
“I’ve certainly relied on Father Thorne. There are things I’ve shared with him that I hadn’t had anyone else that I could talk to about that way. I’m not unusual in this because he’s the chaplain and there’s that supportive place.”
The Chaplaincy and King’s
Thorne holds two separate positions, one as the Anglican Chaplain at the Dalhousie/King’s Multi-faith Centre, and the other as the King’s Chaplain and chapel priest-in-charge.
“When we’ve had appointments to chaplaincy, there are always two hiring committees, and they get coordinated,” said Dr. Neil Robertson, a King’s professor. “In the past, I’ve been on both committees to ensure that we actually wind up with the same person getting the two jobs.”
The Dioceses pays the university chaplaincy position, as each denomination or religion pays for the centre’s other three full-time chaplains and the ten part-time ones. King’s pays a small honorarium for the King’s job, said Robertson. The Watch has filed a Freedom of Information request to the President’s Office for the details of that arrangement.
“The issue that King’s is facing is that the Dioceses is saying, “We are not able to fully fund a university chaplaincy,” which in a certain way, we have been getting benefit from because that has allowed somebody to also be chaplain at King’s. Now, obviously, we’re also providing a benefit to that chaplaincy because we’re making accessible and paying the upkeep for and funding the chapel and its work,” said Robertson, referring to the $30,000 budgeted by King’s in support of the chapel.
As part of his job, Thorne runs faith services, organizes and participates in group projects and campus activities, offers counseling and promotes social justice and volunteering to students and faculty.
King’s has long had a chaplain on campus, and for many years, Anglican clergy were trained at King’s. This changed in 1971, when the Atlantic School of Theology was formed by Anglican, United and Roman Catholic ministry training schools. King’s represented the Anglican Church of Canada in that partnership.
King’s still receives some funding each year from an externally held trust fund called the Forrester Foundation, dating back to when clergy were trained at King’s. It must be given directly to the Dioceses, which then uses the donation to help AST. The Bishop still sits on the King’s Board of Governors as the “visitor”, a role common in British institutions to give counsel or advice. At King’s, the Visitor also administers the Visitor’s fund, and Gerry Smith, the school bursar, said all details of which are held by the Dioceses. The other institutional ties remaining between the schools is that a King’s faculty member sits on AST’s board of governors, a position Robertson currently holds, and that King’s has a chaplain.
The chapel now is designed as a multi-faith chapel, hosting worship of many religions including Judasim and Islam, and is meant to include the entire King’s community.
Since 2009, the Diocesan Council has rated the university chaplaincy as low-priority, and it cut the position’s funding in half, said Moxley in an interview with The Watch on Oct. 13. Her letter says a fundraising drive called the Bishops’ Action Appeal has provided the other half.
In the interview, she said only $15,000 was raised the first year of the drive, and nothing the next, so the Dioceses ended up paying the rest of the amount.
“It is not a thing that has had appeal for people to contribute to,” she said. “So, for two years, we absorbed the other half, which meant we were very close to being in a deficit position.”
The total yearly salary and benefits for the Chaplaincy position costs $78,860, said Moxley. She declined to provide documentation. The Dioceses budget shows that it budgeted for $35,400 in 2008, but actually spent $70,546 on the Multifaith Centre position.
Moxley said by email that she did plan to ask Dalhousie for funding as well, but in a later email, she said her meeting with administration had been cancelled.
Dalhousie does not pay for clergy of any religion and only provides the Multifaith Centre infrastructure.
“It isn’t Dalhousie saying we have to have this person; it’s the King’s connection,” said Moxley.
The Board’s response
The Board of Governors committee has been formed, following the request of Moxley, but not to reconsider the value of the chaplaincy. Instead, the committee takes up the second request, to present to her a funding arrangement by the end of 2011.
“We’ve been asked simply, ‘Can we find the means to ensure the continued funding of the arrangement we presently have?’” said Robertson, who sits on the committee with King’s Student Union President Gabe Hoogers and fellow board member Mary Martin
.
“I don’t see any need to establish an overarching question about, ‘Should this be?’ I’m rather of the view that, ‘It is good. Why don’t we try a way to allow it to be a continuing good?’”
Robertson has been involved in the chapel since he was a King’s student in “the dark ages of the 1980s,” he said, and since then, he’s watched it grow.
“I think that where the chapel is now, which is not where it’s always been, but where it is now, it’s in an extraordinary place, in terms of the life of college and the kind of striving for excellence in music and intellectual and spiritual development. It’s in a golden age. It would be tragic to undercut all of that because, you know, we can’t get our financial house in order to support it.”
The Bishop’s letter outlines six points of “background” information regarding the chaplaincy, including reasons behind the funding cut. These reasons don’t appear to echo the sentiment expressed by Robertson.
“There have been suggestions that this model of chaplaincy is no longer appropriate, that the style of worship is antiquated and the chapel maintains a male-dominated clergy,” reads the letter.
Moxley said these suggestions come from members of the Diocesan Council, not herself.
“I think he’s doing what we asked him to do, but the question is the perception of people who aren’t on campus,” she said, citing the school’s choral program based in the chapel, and the new orchestra and wind ensemble, started by chapel members. She preaches on campus at least once a year, she said.
“And I don’t know if students look carefully at what the words… of the prayers that they say and what the words of the prayers say about the society around them,” she said. For her, theology should fit with where you live.
“One of the glaring bits for me one year was King’s graduation and singing this song that had in it about doing things for your country and not asking any questions… and I thought, ‘Good heavens, these parents just paid four years’ worth of tuition for these people to learn how to ask the right questions and we’re singing a song that says, “Don’t ever ask any questions; just do it.”
Thorne sat down for an interview on Oct. 18, and at that time, he had not seen the letter. He has worked in the Diocese for 32 years.
“The first I heard about this letter… I happened to be away, doing college business… I happened to be in Quebec City. I got a telephone call, telling me about this. Wow. Telling me about this, about this letter, telling me about the things the bishop said about me,” he said.
He paused and his voice dropped as he started to explain one part that stung: the charge that the clergy is male-dominated.
“You can imagine. I was devastated. I mean, what do you think when false accusations are made about you and you can’t respond? Why can’t you respond? Because it’s all over campus. What do I do? Go around to every room and knock on every door and say, ‘Look, I want you to know I’m not a bigot, even though the Bishop has suggested this?’”
Bishop Moxley had not called Thorne first to discuss writing the letter, nor about the funding request. By the time of the interview with Thorne, she had offered to meet with him to discuss it.
Thorne would later write a letter to the chapel community. In it, he wrote that women priests run holy communion services weekly, participate in solemn eucharist as liturgical deacons and sub deacons, they preach, perform priestly function at morning and evening prayer, and that he has sought out female theological students studying for priesthood to do her placement at Dal/King’s.
“The chapel does not maintain a male-dominated clergy. Indeed, some students find the very use of the language of ‘male-domination’ offensive. The notion that there is no gender equality in the chapel has distressed students, not only because it is false but because others in the university who do not attend chapel are given the impression of a systemic oppression in a part of the university.”
Students, such as Veronica Curran, a former chapel warden, have written in opposition to this suggestion in the Bishop’s letter on a recently formed Facebook group, “Save the Chapel”.
“The idea that the chapel is ‘male-dominated’ is an insult to all of us who have played a major role in its life and growth. Is the diocese trying to say that my contribution is inadequate?” Curran wrote. ”For the four years that I have been here we have had two female wardens out of three every year.”
One alternative Moxley presents in her letter is a part-time Anglican chaplain position, such as that at Acadia University in Wolfville. The job is done by a local parish priest who spends some days each week on campus.
Thorne said it wouldn’t be true to the nature of a college chapel, and that the same amount of work would simply not get done. He said the serious, intellectual worship offered by college chapels attracts students and creates the King’s community, of which he says his colleagues at Dal are envious.
The suggestion of “antiquated worship” was central to his letter as well. He told students that while many consider the chapel services beautiful and inspiring, the bishop passed along his suggestion so they can be aware of the perception and perhaps revise their worship, advice in line with her role as the spiritual leader.
“We must consider her counsel sincerely,” Thorne wrote.
Student support
The “Save the Chapel” Facebook group had more than 500 people by the end of its first day. Many have sent letters to Bishop Moxley and to the president.
Jolanta Lorenc, chapel member, sent a letter, criticizing the administration for not openly supporting the chapel.
It sparked a response from President Leavitt, who said she supports the chapel, Thorne, and will support the committee’s decision on how to fund the chaplaincy. Thorne wrote in his letter that he credits Lorenc’s letter and the activity online with starting a dialogue between the King’s community and those involved in this decision.
Gabe Hoogers said the funding committee has several options and now is finalizing details. They’ll hold a town hall by mid-November to present the ideas to the community and get feedback.
“If they need to make cuts, they need to make cuts. I hope they allow young people to look them in the eye and tell them how they’ve come to know God through this place. At least, that’s what I would hope,” said Thorne, who says he has six or seven students who are considering priesthood.
“We do use compline service that basically comes from the sixth century, but we do that in a chapel in a university where the first texts that they read in Foundation Year come from the third millennium before Christ, Samarians, and all the way through.”
He jumps out of his seat, gesturing at a painting on his wall, all of blues and whites, starkly contrasting orange fire on a frozen lake: early morning prayer.
“Is this an antiquated worship? This is, an artist painted this on our retreat last winter, right. There I am, just outside of Keji, on a frozen lake at 7 o’clock in the morning, the sun just coming up, with students there. Is that antiquated worship? Is that old fashioned?”

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

2 replies on “A Future for Faith?”

As a former student (class of 77) and Chapel attender, let me just say that a liturgy is not antiquated if people find it a useful path to God. There are many empty churches using “modern” liturgies because the parishners do not like the “new services”. If the Chapel has a congregation and I am sure it does from what I am reading Gary and his team must be doing something right. Good Bless you all. Meg

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