Most members of the Roanoke College community have probably seen the College’s new chaplain hanging out around campus. The Rev. Chris Bowen, known to many as “Chaplain Chris,” can be found eating in the Commons, cheering on the soccer team at Kerr Stadium or talking with students at Mac and Bobs.
Bowen’s wife, Cynthia, and their three children, Carolina, 10, Courtney, 9, and Croix, 3, are also becoming familiar faces around Roanoke.
Bowen was born in Rock Springs, Wyo., but he moved frequently as a child, living in six different states before he was 11 years old. He moved to North Carolina for college where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Lenoir-Rhyne University. Before he was called to seminary, Bowen planned to study genetics in graduate school and become a scientist.
“I knew that I could be successful at being a scientist, but it wasn’t really my passion,” Bowen said.
Before Roanoke, Bowen worked in Virginia Beach at St. Michael Lutheran Church for nine years, first as the associate pastor and then as the senior pastor.
He received his invitation to come to Roanoke College in a meeting with President Mike Maxey shortly after the College’s May Commencement. By the first week of July, the Bowen family was settling into Salem, and Bowen was getting his own Roanoke orientation.
“There has been a lot to learn and a lot of people to meet,” he said. “I am trying to learn names and figure out where things are on campus, just like freshmen do.”
Now that Bowen has had some time to settle into his new role, we spoke with him about his life and his plans as Roanoke’s new chaplain.
RC News Blog: What were you like as a college student?
Chaplain Chris: Well, I was on scholarship, so most of my friends would have described me as a rather serious student. I was part of the honors program at Lenoir-Rhyne at that time, and I spent a lot of time studying. I was a TA [teaching assistant] in the biology department, so helping set up labs and those sorts of things were part of my experience. I was also in Greek life. I was part of Theta Chi, which is a Greek social fraternity at Lenoir-Rhyne. That was an important part of my time there. I was vice president of the chapter. I also participated in campus ministry. I did Lutheran student movement events and retreats.
I got involved in a lot of things, so I wasn’t just a serious student. I wasn’t just Greek. I tried to be serious but also be well rounded. That’s one of the nice things about being part of a liberal arts college. You get to try a lot of things and not fall into any particular click.
RC News Blog: How did you meet your wife?
Chaplain Chris: Well, just as Maroon Corps helps move freshmen students in here, at Lenoir-Rhyne there was a group of us who helped move in incoming students. My wife was one of those incoming students, and I helped move her into her dorm room. Between move-in day and the start of the school year, we always had an opening school year dance at Lenoir-Rhyne, so I asked her to go to the dance with me. Three and a half years later we got married.
RC News Blog: What is the most important thing on your desk right now?
Chaplain Chris: I have a number of pictures that are important. They are pictures of my family starting with my grandparents through my kids. It’s really a way to remember who I am and where I come from. Family is a really important part of my life.
RC News Blog: What new ideas are you bringing to Roanoke, and what is your vision for the campus?
Chaplain Chris: We live in a time where I think that not just interfaith dialogue, but also relationships are important. I will be working with the interfaith council, which is a really new part of our campus, to help grow and strengthen that part of the college community.
When it comes to the campus worship, I am going to be finding some ways to update the chapel and find ways to welcome more folks into the worshiping community. I also want to find ways to strengthen the campus ministries. I have created a campus ministry counsel already that will involve all of the campus ministry supervisors and a student leader from each group.
Part of it is also just doing a lot of analysis. What are the things that we are doing well when it comes to campus spirituality? And also asking the question, what are the new things that we are doing to help our students discern their vocational life? One of the things that I am probably most excited about is to develop a little bit more deeply how we help our students develop their sense of direction and purpose in life. That falls under what we as Lutherans would call their vocation. Vocation includes career, but it’s not just their career, it’s what kind of issues and ideas and movements that they want to commit themselves to and be a part of. What is their purpose in life? What kind of family life would they like to have?
I want to help them frame the questions, not so much give them the answers that they should have. It’s really to provide an environment where they can wrestle with and seek to answer what I call the big five questions – Who am I? Whose am I? (What kind of communities do I engage with?) What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose in life? What kind of world do I want to help to create and sustain?
RC News Blog: What kind of chaplain do you want to be here at Roanoke?
Chaplain Chris: Approachable, curious and out there. I have told folks that it is my goal to wear my shoes out. I don’t want to be known as the chaplain that sat in the Chaplain’s Office and waited for people. I want to go out and be engaged in the community as a whole. In some ways, I want to do what I did in college. I want to make sure that I am not just the chaplain for a portion of the campus.
-By Kayla Fuller ’14
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