Prospect Magazine: Alumni Stories

The Faith That Is Willing to Engage

Chaplain’s job at Lakeland College is a divine fit for alumna Kelly Stone.

When she saw the job listing for a chaplain at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Kelly Stone had a feeling she had found the perfect position. When a half-dozen or so of her friends e-mailed her the same job listing—saying they thought it was ideal for her—it only made her more certain of it.

Stone is now in her fourth year at Lakeland. She thinks she and her friends called it right.

 “I love this job with all my heart,” she says.

For Stone, part of the job’s initial appeal was Lakeland’s rural setting, which suited the native of Geneseo, Illinois. The school’s affiliation with the United Church of Christ was another plus for Stone, whose devotion to the UCC was so well-known to her friends from Yale Divinity School that they good-naturedly called her a cheerleader for the church.     

But it’s her work with the college’s students and faculty, she says, that makes the job such a pleasure and a challenge. Stone’s duties as chaplain include everything from teaching an introduction to Christianity course to leading weekly worship to counseling students, faculty, and staff. She is especially proud of helping to revitalize Lakeland’s worship program. When she arrived at the college, services were infrequent and sparsely attended. Since then, she has introduced weekly evening services that have proven popular with students. “We’ve almost doubled our regular attendance,” she says. “We never do the same thing twice, and I think the variety keeps the students interested. Last night I didn’t preach; we had time for quiet reflection. It’s always something different.”

Stone’s interest in ministry developed during her years at Elmhurst. She had enrolled at the College because she was attracted to its strong speech-language pathology program. Ministry, she says, “wasn’t even a blip on my radar.” But by her sophomore year, she had become active in programs connected to the Office of the Chaplain, the Reverend H. Scott Matheney.

 “Scott introduced me to a much bigger world than I knew existed,” she says. “I remember seeing a poster about Africa in his office and saying to him, ‘Wow, Africa. It would be so cool to go there someday.’ He said, ‘Before you leave here, we’ll find a way to get you there, Kelly.’ And he did.” Stone and several other students went to South Africa with Matheney and President Bryant L. Cureton to help build a home for Habitat for Humanity.

 “I think of Scott’s example as I go about my job,” Stone says. “How do I open people’s minds? How do I get them to see that the world is bigger than Sheboygan, Wisconsin?”

Stone also credits a class in Christian ethics taught by Professor Paul Parker—a class she took to satisfy the College’s general education requirements—for sparking her interest in ministry. “It helped open my eyes to the world and to Christian responsibility,” she says. “I’m so glad that religion classes are required, because if I hadn’t taken that class I probably never would have ended up in ministry.”

After graduating from Elmhurst, Stone went to Yale, where she earned a master’s degree in divinity. She found the intellectual environment in New Haven stimulating. “I was studying with some of the best minds in their fields,” she recalls. “Being exposed to that kind of academic atmosphere was good for me.”

Stone began her work at Lakeland straight out of graduate school. She is aware that she isn’t all that much older than some of Lakeland’s students. “I try to look at the positive side of it. Because I’m young I can relate to some of their experiences, and I think maybe they feel a little more comfortable with me, because I’m the younger face of religion. It helps them to see that you can be young and faithful today. When I go to local churches to preach, I often hear, ‘Oh, you’re so young.’ And my response is always, ‘Everyone was young once.’ That’s the best way I know to deal with it. The experience will come with the years.”

Stone lives with her husband on Lakeland’s Prof Row, a series of campus houses that in the nineteenth century were home to the faculty. She sometimes invites groups of students to her home for meetings, saying that the informal atmosphere helps the conversation flow.

Sometimes, she says, students come to her with doubts about their faith. It’s the sort of conversation that goes to the heart of what she finds so intriguing about her job. “I encourage students to ask the question, ‘Why do I believe this?’ The faith that is willing to engage those questions is going to be a much stronger faith, one that can carry the students through their lives. That’s why this college is such an exciting place to work for me. Because the students are free to ask those questions.”

Photo by Tom Lindfors

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