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Chaplain Andrew Pomerville: Walking with Students on Their Faith Journeys

“There is so much potential for Alma College to be a leader as a college that embraces spiritual life. I love being available and seeing how many students want to enjoy and practice their faith.” — Andrew Pomerville

Andrew Pomerville with students in Hamilton Commons.Andrew Pomerville with students in Hamilton Commons.The Rev. Dr. Andrew Pomerville is living the dream.

To his absolute delight, he gets to engage with college students, faculty and staff on a daily basis. He provides spiritual support and encouragement to those in need. He preaches, advises, teaches and serves, all with a positive energy that is contagious and genuine.

March 2019 marks the one-year anniversary of Pomerville’s arrival at Alma College. During his first 12 months as chaplain and director of spiritual life, he has immersed himself in campus life, re-energized spiritual programming and introduced an interfaith perspective that welcomes students from all faith backgrounds.

“There is so much potential for Alma College to be a leader as a college that embraces spiritual life,” says Pomerville. “I love being available and seeing how many students want to enjoy and practice their faith. I hope students, faculty and staff see how much I enjoy this call. It’s a dream come true, and I’m looking forward to engaging and growing with our students.”

Pomerville’s visibility both on- and off-campus takes many forms. He attends as many student and alumni activities as possible, sometimes even wearing his kilt when the college’s Scottish heritage is celebrated.

Pomerville leads Thursday morning interfaith services in Dunning Memorial Chapel.Pomerville leads Thursday morning interfaith services in Dunning Memorial Chapel.He teaches courses in the pre-ministry program, serves on a variety of campus committees, provides leadership for chapel programming and delivers invocations. At the invitation of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Pomerville gave the invocation for the 2019 State-of-the-State address in the State Capitol. Proudly wearing an Alma Ambassador pin, he connected with other alumni at the event and shared his behind-the-scenes experiences on social media.

“Andrew has made it possible for anyone on campus to begin to explore their faith,” says Alma College junior Bailey Knuth, a student ministry coordinator and a leader with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Night of Worship.

“I’ll never forget Andrew coming into last year’s Jesus in Gospel and Film spring term class to introduce himself,” says Knuth. “He gave us just one of many motivations he had for becoming our chaplain, saying, ‘There will be a point in each of your lives when you will begin questioning faith and spirituality.’ He wanted to help us begin or continue our faith journeys while at Alma. I have seen this come to fruition more times than I can count. Andrew has made a welcoming impression on the community and has helped make faith anything but one of those ‘awkward dinner table conversations.’”

Interfaith Emphasis

Among the new initiatives that Pomerville established was a weekly Thursday morning interfaith service. It takes place in Dunning Memorial Chapel from 11:20 to 11:45 a.m., which allows students to drop in between classes.

“We’ve always had our weekly Christian service on Sunday evenings; it meets a need and is well attended,” says Pomerville. “But we’ve never had a service during the week for students, faculty and staff from various faith backgrounds to come together. A focus on interfaith made sense, to demonstrate that students and faculty from all backgrounds can co-exist, get along and learn from each other.

“Each service begins the same way: we invite a student group, a faith group, or Greek organization, or club, and ask the same three questions: Who are they? What do they do to serve the campus? And how does their faith help them in their service? The responses have been varied. We are learning that serving others is more than raising money.”

The Thursday service has featured a mix of internal and external speakers and exposes students to other faith traditions and celebrations, including Hanukkah, Zen Buddhism and Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light.

“The attendance has been steady,” says Pomerville. “The students take leadership; they welcome guests and provide hospitality. Speakers have included the Honorable Michelle Rick, a Circuit Court judge, and former Michigan State University starting quarterback Bill Burke, who talked about faith and athletics. We bring good people to campus and then tell them the good news of what our students are doing at Alma College.”

Pomerville wears the Alma College Tartan Stole, made with the college's official tartan fabric.Pomerville wears the Alma College Tartan Stole, made with the college's official tartan fabric.A Religious Renaissance

One of the most well-attended Thursday morning services took place following the October 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting. Rabbi Amy Bigman of Congregation Shaarey Zedek of East Lansing was scheduled to speak at Alma before the shooting, but the tragedy occurred prior to her visit.

“She came to do a Torah scroll reading, and she brought her own scrolls,” says Pomerville. “The Rabbi talked about how people of all faiths must come together after a tragedy. We showed that a rabbi and a Christian clergy can be united to express compassion, sorrow and hope.”

The service was particularly meaningful to Gabrielle Alter, president of the Alma College Hillel, a satellite branch of the Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan.

“To see Rabbi Amy Bigman standing there, unafraid of anything, was extremely powerful and made me feel better,” says Alter. “I was in shock after the Tree of Life tragedy, and hearing her speak helped me process the shooting and understand that even though people are targeted because of their faith, being afraid of worshipping makes others win.”

To help promote interfaith dialogue, Pomerville established an interfaith alliance with representatives from all faith groups at Alma. The council meets weekly to share and do service together. This group is in addition to the student ministry coordinators who plan the weekly Christian chapel services on Sunday evenings. Other Christian groups are welcome to schedule services and gatherings, and Catholic students also meet weekly.

“Rev. Pomerville has made outreach so much more important and a priority,” says Alter. “The spiritual life at Alma has grown so much since my freshman year. To see how we are going through a religious renaissance at Alma is incredible and something that would not be possible without Rev. Pomerville’s enthusiasm and dedication. People feel more comfortable coming to services and engaging in spiritual life activities due to the welcoming atmosphere that exists.”

Pomerville and football coach Jason Couch lead the football team to Bahlke Field.Pomerville and football coach Jason Couch lead the football team to Bahlke Field.Student Interactions

Pomerville’s campus visibility extends to interactions with students in classes, social spaces, events and gatherings — including the sports teams and performance groups.

“I try to engage with as many of our athletic teams as I can,” he says. “For some, I participate in pre- or post-game activities or sit on the bench. I lead the football team from the chapel to the stadium on home game days.

“Each team knows me in a different way. I did a five-mile run with the cross-country team. The soccer team allows me to shag balls around the net in pre-game. The Cheer/STUNT team regularly welcomes me and my family to practices and games. I even got to throw out the first pitch for a softball game. I also hang with the marching band before football games and give pre-performance talks with the dance team.”

He also represents Alma College off-campus, speaking at congregations throughout Michigan and beyond and assisting in student recruitment. He participates in admissions events, speaks with prospective students, hosts youth groups on campus, and directs the Plaid Serves summer camps — five-day service experiences that provide community service opportunities.

“In my first nine months, I preached at 27 different places,” he says. “I share the good news of our students and what is happening at Alma College and thank the congregations for their support. I enjoy providing worship leadership, and I’m available to all denominations; I even represented Alma College at a synagogue over the Hanukkah celebration this past December. I often bring students with me; they also speak and serve as ministry coordinators. These churches hear firsthand how faith plays a role in our students’ education.”

Chapel services are open to the public. The Sunday evening worship services take place at 7 p.m., while the Thursday morning interfaith services begin at 11:20 a.m.

Story published on February 28, 2019