Welcome to the Scotlight! A raw, unedited conversation with an Alma College Faculty or Staff member about their experiences and how they fit into the Alma College experience.
This week I sat down with Chaplain Dr. Andrew Pomerville, to talk about the Chapel as it exists now and the future he would like to head towards. We met in his office on Sunday Afternoon, here’s what we talked about:
Chelsea: Let’s talk about you first, you’re an Alma grad, who returned to campus, what was your ‘sandwiched’ between two Almas experience?
Dr. Pomerville: I graduated in December ’01 and ended up going back to Alaska, I had spent the previous two summers up in Alaska doing Alma related stuff. When I graduated, I briefly worked as a law clerk in Michigan for two and a half weeks thinking I might do that and hated it, I learned I did not want to be a lawyer. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do, so I went back to Alaska to work but I drove every time, I stopped on the way saw a lot of friends across the country, I was gone for many months. I worked on a boat, did some drywall, worked in a gas station, lived on people’s couches I never really had a place to stay while hitchhiking across the state. Then I got in a car accident and it scared me, so I came home. When I got back, I started a job as a youth minister at my home church in Brighton, at the time I had a nasty long beard and shaggy hair, but it was a great experience. I did that for two and a half years and during that time I got accepted for my Master of Divinity at Princeton to go on to maybe keep studying religion or maybe be a pastor. I fell in love with being a pastor while I was out there. My wife and I went back to Alaska and we got married during that time, married to an Alma girl. After that I went to Northern Michigan after I graduated in ’07. We had our first kid at that point, my daughter Denali, she’s 13 now. I served in Bellaire, MI at a church called Church in the Hills, I really fell in love with it, it was amazing, very good people. I did that for four years, during that time I started something called ‘Spirituality Untapped’ with another pastor and the owner of Shorts Brewery, at the time no one was going into the brewery, so he would give us whatever night we wanted. We would show up, get a bunch of beers and appetizers for whoever would want to come, and we would talk about something. I think our first one was the very cliché ‘why do bad things happen to good people’? We invited anyone who wanted to come talk and got a whole bunch of people from Atheists, Catholics, Jewish people, Pagans, we really had anyone come to drink beer and talk about what they believed about the world. Then we took it on the road and would start to go to other breweries on occasion and talk about this thing. It got a lot of press which resulted in me getting some attention from a church in East Lansing, the People’s Church, they asked me to be their senior pastor, I had no experience, I was just a guy who liked to talk about faith stuff. I liked my little church in Northern Michigan, so I said no. They came back six or seven months later and said we really think you’re supposed to be our guy so we will give you the tools and teach you how to do it, so we moved to East Lansing in 2011. We had our son Bryce in that time period. I was there for seven years, during that time I finished my doctorate with the University of Aberdeen and Pittsburg Theological, I would fly back and forth to Scotland, the church was amazing about it. I did all my studies there and a pulpit swap, where I would go to a pastor’s church and he would go to mine for a while.
Chelsea: Wow, that’s really different, I’ve never heard of that.
Dr. Pomerville: Yeah, I wish other jobs did it, it’s cross cultural. There were certain things that were different obviously I didn’t have the same relationships, but it was great. That led to here, we had a house fire in 2015 that I always talk about, it devastated us but made us think about what we do. I
finished my doctorate in 2017 and didn’t really know what was next. I never planned on leaving the People’s Church, but the position came open at Alma and President Abernathy had a new idea for how the position would be designed, I very attracted so I threw my hat in the ring and now I’m here! It’s a long answer but there was a whole bunch of stuff in between.
Chelsea: Since you’ve been here there’s been a lot of changes within the Chapel and the structure, so if you could talk on that, what have you seen that’s been really exciting?
Dr. Pomerville: I knew the previous Chaplains, and having graduated here in ’01, I was familiar but even at that time I had a Chaplain I really liked but there couldn’t have been more than ten people showing up to Chapel events, it just wasn’t a big deal. It went down to almost an afterthought, people knew it was here and they valued it but there was no emphasis on it. President Abernathy was a good friend to me as an Alumnus and I trust his vision, he wanted to see spiritually and faith integrated more into the Liberal Arts education, so we talked more about what that could look like and we formed a position that has some overarching reach into the community. You should be everywhere, you should have standing, people should trust that you’ll show up, that you’re not there for any ulterior motives, you’re simply there to be their Chaplain to be available to be someone they can trust to talk about spirituality or anything else. He let me be the Chaplain for all the sports teams and the preforming arts, that’s a big deal, so I try to get to everyone’s events. I’m on campus everywhere, I teach, I have dotted lines to every department on campus but I’m not technically under any department. I help with admissions, I love recruitment, I also love fundraising, so I work with advancement as well. I joke that I’m kind of like a mascot with a doctorate, that’s who I am.
Chelsea: Dr. Scotty!
Dr. Pomerville: Yes! Dr. Scotty! It’s better than ‘Chappy,’ that’s what the football team calls me, but that is a good one too. I have a chance to try to redesign what we do here but also stay true to what we believe which is letting people explore and learn what it is like to do interfaith work.
Chelsea: Very cool stuff, building off of that, what are some goals you have or visions you have about inclusivity in the Chapel, and what you guys do, what you want to see happen here?
Dr. Pomerville: So, the Chapel is scheduled to be renovated, we are just at the end of raising all of our money, hopefully that will be completed very soon! Very exciting for me personally I think because it will be more reflective of who we are, I want it to be a space that is safe for all people. I am proud to be a Christian, I’m a Presbyterian, but there are lots of other ways to worship, I’m glad to offer a multidenominational Christian service that will always be there, there are different ways of experiencing religion, but I think we need to have other opportunities to be whatever we are, here in the Center for Spiritual Life. We will have a separate multifaith worship space coming in here in the basement, takes over the whole East section. It’s safe, it’s warm, it’s inviting. I want this to be a place that students regularly think to come to, I don’t want it to be a place they say they’ve never been in or have no experience there. It has nothing to do with faith at that point, I want every person to have thought of their faith and their spirituality before they graduate, I would love to help with that and help them understand who they are.
Chelsea: Is there any initiates that the Chapel has done or maybe special projects that, perhaps not a lot of people know about or you want to talk about?
Dr. Pomerville: Absolutely, so the biggest one is the interfaith connections, so my dream was to have something else on campus that was not just a Sunday evening service, but have a carved-out time for faculty, staff and students to come together. It could be worship but it also could be an educational time to know what your neighbors believe and interact with each other in a way that is loving, and grace filled. We’ve been doing that on Thursday mornings at 11:20-11:45, it’s short, we have different speakers. For example, we had Murray Borrello come in and talk about his faith in the midst of the studies that he does, we’ve had Rabbis, other faith leaders from inside Alma and beyond, talking about these things. I think it’s an incredible opportunity for all of us and I wish we had a more carved out time during the day, that this was a normal thing. It’s safe and I hope it continues. Our students are doing a ton of outreach and community engagement, so service and community building activities, it’s great. We have lots of student workers who offer the best of themselves in worship leadership, but they also do organization and social media, things like that. They’ve become the outreach arm of the Chapel and it’s exciting. We added a chapel house last year so that’s kind of new, it’s interfaith and accepting. We want to bring together those who think differently and what does that look like in the greater community.
Chelsea: Yeah, that is really interesting. Did you have any parting thoughts or other topics you would like to cover before we’re done?
Dr. Pomerville: I also want people to understand the Chapel is not just one monolithic belief system or that it is homogenous in the people. All people should be welcome here, full stop. I mean I think all should feel like they can walk in, but I also think all people should be able to participate however they want to. You can come and simply watch something without singing, standing, praying. Or you can dip your toe and see what it’s all about. We’re trying to design especially our Sunday night stuff to make it fit more into the schedule. We try to match it up to Greek life, preforming arts, and other events. We added a Catholic Priest and Nun, who are offering Mass on Sunday nights at 9. But my goal is to work to all student’s needs, if they say they want a Greek Orthodox Priest, then I’ll go find one and bring them in. If they’re interested in exploring whatever their background is, I want to help them do that.