Harold Attridge, Martin Jean hail selection of Sharon Kugler as university chaplain
By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications
Dean Harold Attridge was co-chair of the search committee that screened candidates for chaplain of Yale University to succeed the Rev. Frederick Streets '75 M.Div., and he is thoroughly pleased with the fruits of the committee's work: the selection of Sharon Kugler-the first woman, first lay person, and first Catholic to hold the position. Yale President Richard C. Levin announced Kugler's appointment on Feb. 9, calling her "widely recognized as one of the nation's most creative university chaplains."
Kugler is currently chaplain at Johns Hopkins University , and Attridge said her track record there was "extraordinary," noting that she created a religious ministries organization virtually from scratch that serves the needs of an "increasingly multi-faith student body."
The appointment of Kugler comes at a time of significant transition for the university's religious ministries program. Historically, the worshipping community at Battell Chapel, founded in 1757 and the oldest college church in America , was a congregation of the United Church of Christ. But in 2005 the university ended that relationship-a decision that was not without controversy-in the belief that a nondenominational congregation would better serve Yale's diverse student population.
Attridge, who shared leadership of the search committee with Linda Lorimer, vice president and secretary of the university, said Kugler's credentials "consist above all of the record of accomplishment in precisely those areas we defined as crucial for the success of the new university chaplain."
Those areas, Attridge explained, include the ability to provide dynamic leadership to a multi-faith religious community; the ability to articulate in a forceful way the religious values at stake in a complex university; and effective pastoral skills for relating to members of the Yale community.
Although Kugler is not ordained, Attridge pointed out that she has preached on numerous occasions, delivering sermons that he said some members of the search committee found to be "eloquent, profound, and deeply moving."
Martin Jean, director of the Institute of Sacred Music and also a member of the search committee, said, "Sharon Kugler will bring fresh ideas to the nurturing of the diverse religious communities of Yale's students, faculty and staff. She is compassionate, warm, authentic, intelligent and creative. We at the Institute look forward to working with her in coming years." With the transition of Battell from a UCC congregation to nondenominational, ISM has been playing a special role in facilitating worship that is spiritually fulfilling for a congregation representing a wide range of religious traditions.
Kugler said, "One of the many exciting possibilities that I am truly looking forward to working on at Yale is the opportunity for a flourishing partnership with the Institute of Sacred Music and the chaplaincy. My sense is that there is a firm commitment to explore together the notion of the sacred across many religious traditions. Whether we are thinking about what makes a space sacred, or a sound or a movement for that matter, we know that the echo of artistic expression runs through all our traditions and can inform us in ways that both enrich and enlighten."
Since Kugler is not an ordained Protestant, a search is being conducted to appoint a Protestant as pastor of Battell Chapel, as mandated by the Yale Corporation, the university's governing body.
"This arrangement seems entirely suitable for a university that has greatly diversified its student and faculty populations," said Levin in announcing Kugler's appointment. "It is fitting that the University Chaplain focus on the religious needs of the University as a whole and exercise stewardship for students, faculty, and staff of all faiths. At the same time, Yale, with its history firmly rooted in the Protestant tradition, also should have a Protestant Chaplain, whose ministry focuses on the increasingly vibrant ecumenical community at Battell in much the same way that Father Robert Beloin serves as Chaplain for the Roman Catholic community and Rabbi James Ponet serves as our Jewish Chaplain.
Attridge called the chaplain search "both extensive and intensive", noting that the search committee canvassed over 60 dossiers of candidates and potential candidate and interviewed some dozen of these off-site and brought five to campus for extended conversations with the committee.
"Once we met her," said Attridge, "We were all deeply impressed with the kinds of
skills and experience that she has brought to her work as chaplain at Johns Hopkins."
Kugler has served as president of both the National Association of College and University Chaplains and the Association of College and University Religious Affairs.
Kugler's early career was devoted to social service ministry. She was the resident counselor for a battered women's shelter in Ohio before becoming an Associate Campus Minister at Santa Clara University where her work focused primarily on spiritual development and pastoral care. Later she became the founding director of AIDS Interfaith Residential Services, which was Baltimore 's first residential program for adults living in the last stages of HIV/AIDS. Active engagement with people of faith in serving the needs of the world has been a vital part of her work as chaplain.