Rev. Ian Oliver will serve next year as pastor of the University Church and senior associate chaplain for Protestant life after his appointment by the University earlier this month.
Traditionally, the role of pastor of the University Church has fallen under the job description of University chaplain. But Sharon Kugler, who was appointed as Yale’s seventh University chaplain last summer, is a lay Catholic, and therefore could not serve as pastor of the University Church. According to Yale Corporation stipulations, if the University chaplain is not Protestant, a separate chaplain must serve as pastor of the University Church.
The dichotomy between Oliver and Kugler reflects an approach to religious leadership uncommon among institutions of higher education, the new pastor said.
“It’s a groundbreaking move on Yale’s part,” Oliver said in a recent phone interview from his home in Pennsylvania.
Oliver, a native of El Paso, Tex., received his undergraduate degree from Amherst College and studied ministry at the University of Chicago Divinity School. After he was ordained under the United Church of Christ in 1990, he served as the associate chaplain at the Kodaikanal International School in South India. Since 1996, Oliver has served as university chaplain at Bucknell University in Lewisberg, Penn.
“Ian stood out from the beginning because he brings significant experience in higher education and he possesses a pastor’s heart,” Kugler wrote in an e-mail to the News. “He has a keen understanding of what works and what doesn’t in an academic setting, as well as great energy to engage with diverse Christian communities.”
The Protestant tradition lies at the core of Yale’s religious history. The University was founded by clergymen, and until the appointment of University President Arthur Hadley in 1899, the school had always been led by an ordained Protestant minister. The Yale Corporation established the position of full-time University chaplain in 1927 in response to the shifting religious mores of the time.
Given Yale’s rich religious history, Oliver said, the school must walk a fine line in respecting the past while embracing the school’s changing spiritual landscape. Still, he said, there are advantages to the new structure that his arrival will create.
“Sometimes when the University chaplaincy and the Protestant chaplaincy are together … the Protestants get less attention,” he said. “That’s been part of my experience [at Bucknell].”
Oliver said he is excited to work with the many Protestant groups on campus, as well as to get involved in the increasing interfaith dialogue at Yale.
“This is a program that has tremendous heritage, but it’s also going in new directions at the same time, and that’s what I’m most looking forward to,” he said.
During his time at Bucknell, Oliver helped expand the university’s religious community, appointing Bucknell’s first full-time Jewish chaplain in 2000 and working to organize an annual service project in Nicaragua.
Kugler said she hopes Oliver’s arrival will help facilitate more extensive facilitation among campus Protestant groups.
“We would like to see Yale become a model for ecumenical collaboration and understanding,” she wrote. “On many college campuses the Protestant groups do not engage with one another. I feel very strongly that we can and should be different here.”
Oliver, whose office will be located in the basement of Bingham Hall, across from the chaplain’s office, will assume his new post in mid-July.