College can be a time of tremendous growth and experience for young people.
They are independent for the first time in their lives, requiring them to take care of their own laundry, worry about their own meals and manage their own time.
In the classroom, students master new concepts and encounter ideas they had never pondered before.
For Leah Rumsey, the new chaplain at Franklin College, the goal will be to apply that to their spiritual selves as well.
Rumsey will help to handle the spiritual concerns of the school’s 1,000 students. As chaplain, she’ll organize weekly worship services, offer counseling and provide a refuge in times of crisis.
She said she’s ready to help students as they enter a crucial time of self-development.
“In college, students are able to make their own religious decisions for the first time. You can help them find their own spiritual and religious autonomy,” she said. “That might not show up as much in a parish, where their families are, or in a hospital ministry setting.”
Rumsey replaces David Weatherspoon, who had been the chaplain at Franklin College since 2004. Weatherspoon left Franklin for a job in Memphis working as a hospital chaplain.
Rumsey has been working in some form of ministry for the past six years. She served as a student minister at churches in Massachusetts and Michigan. Most recently, she was an assistant chaplain at Suffolk University in Boston.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Name: Leah Rumsey
Home: Currently East Lansing, Michigan; moving to Franklin
Occupation: Campus minister at Franklin College
Education: Bachelor’s degrees in religion, English and international/area studies from Kalamazoo College in 2011; master’s of divinity degree from Harvard University in 2014
Family: Husband, Mohamed
College chaplaincy emerged as an area of interest while she was earning her master’s of divinity at Harvard University.
“Of the different types of ministry I’d tried as an undergrad and in seminary, this was the one where I felt I could make the most difference,” she said. “It was where I could use my academic skills most to help students.”
It was during her time at Suffolk that Rumsey realized the impact campus ministry can have. The campus was blocks from the site of the bombing at the Boston Marathon.
During her chaplaincy at Suffolk, she had grown close to both Catholic and Muslim students. While the entire city mourned the tragedy, Rumsey watched as people turned against the Muslim students for no reason other than bigotry.
“Their unwarranted suffering in the days following the bombing was terrible. It broke my heart and made me lose faith in Boston a little bit,” she said.
The experience shaped the way she would approach ministering in crisis situations.
“It was helpful to learn to serve people when I can’t help them at all. I can’t make the situation better, but I can provide comfort. I can be a listening ally,” she said.
Rumsey, whose family lives in the Midwest, found out about the Franklin College job while working as an associate chaplain at Suffolk. She was looking for a position at another university or college.
“I had gone to a small college, Kalamazoo College, for undergrad. The chapel program there had been very important to me, both spiritually and developmentally,” she said. “So I knew I wanted to be in the same kind of environment.”
Rumsey was impressed not only by the friendly atmosphere and welcoming spirit she found at Franklin College but also for the school’s interest in opening up new chances to learn for all students.
“Particularly those students who maybe had not had access to a lot of opportunities in high school but were still academically talented and interested but needed that nudge,” she said.
Rumsey will start her job at Franklin on Aug. 18.
She and her husband, Mohamed, have visited Franklin College multiple times this summer. They’ve met campus leaders, toured their future Franklin home and started planning for retreats and welcome services for students.
Though she realizes the position will bring with it an adjustment period, Rumsey already has goals for what she’d like to do with the campus ministry program. She would like to see more student-driven leadership from the weekly chapel services, allowing her to be more a coordinator and support for them.
The hope is that she can also help make an impact for students regardless of their faith background.
“Often in college chaplaincy, you can make a more concrete contribution to a student’s development. You can connect them with resources. You can suggest sources for them, at least students studying religion,” she said.