The character of Brown's chaplaincy has shifted with the life of University itself, especially during the past sixty years. Brown presidents until 1926 were ordained Baptist ministers, and Brown's religious life until the 1950s was largely concerned with compulsory chapel attendance (or the lack thereof) and the ad hoc organization of various religious groups.
In 1952, however, a special committee of the Corporation recommended the formation of a formal chaplaincy, thus recognizing that the chaplain was “an important official of the University, a spiritual counsellor [sic] to the entire student body, and an overall supervisor of all religious activities of the University including the chapel services and relations with neighboring churches.” (Encyclopedia Brunoniana, “Chapel”).
During the past fifty-seven years, the Corporation's mandate has evolved; the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life (OCRL) has become a key collaborator in the Unversity's mission to "embrace" diversity and expand students' intellectual life as well as their "moral core" (Guide to Liberal Learning, paragraphs 14 and 16). The chaplaincy accomplishes this expanded mission while staying close to its historic role as spiritual counselor to the Brown community.
Today, OCRL seeks to create spaces and opportunities within the immediate environs of the University and in its larger circles where questions that originate within religious, philosophical, ethical, or spiritual practice can be voiced and explored openly. The chaplains' work is rooted in the care of the whole person—body, soul and spirit, the encouragement of religious literacy, and the support of religious diversity at Brown.
In 2008, the Office moved from its long-time location in Faunce House across Waterman Street to the newly renovated J. Walter Wilson Building (fourth floor). In this setting, which overlooks the former Faunce offices, the chaplaincy is now located in the heart of student activities. The building, a former laboratory, was completely rehabilitated to serve as a hub for student support services and classrooms. The Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life continue to make this new setting a center for religious and spiritual life at Brown.
(Photo above: The Waterman Street side of the J. Walter Wilson Building overlooks Faunce House, the home of the chaplaincy for fifty years. Photo courtesy of Brown's Department of Facilities Management.)