By Kenneth Glidden, Head Culture Co-Writer
Photos from Phoebe McCutcheon and weebly.com
This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing McKendree University’s Reverend Dr. Beverly Wilkes-Null, the chaplain as of July 1, 2021. As I walked into Bothwell Chapel, there was nothing but peace and quiet. I took a few steps in and was met with Reverend Beverly’s office where she greeted me with the most enthusiastic hello. We sat down to chat as I asked her a few questions and welcomed her to the Bearcat family. Reverend Beverly—or as she calls herself, Rev. Bev—is from Hopkins County in Western Kentucky, which she described as a small, rural area in which she was surrounded by family. Before she became the chaplain here at McKendree, Rev. Bev worked as a district superintendent, but she already rocked Bearcat purple as a member of the university’s board of trustees. She reconnected with McKendree when our previous reverend, Tim Harrison, stepped down from his position. McKendree is a United Methodist affiliate, so when there was a vacancy in chaplaincy, the university interviewed candidates and then consulted with a bishop who appointed their choice of candidate. A job application process like that only attests to Rev. Bev’s outstanding qualifications.
Considering that she has only been working here for a few months now, I asked how she has enjoyed her time here so far. She replied, “I’m really enjoying getting to know the people, the students, the faculty, and the staff. It’s a unique place… We are a community within the community of Lebanon. What I see from President Dobbins—and the other faculty and staff—is that they really have a heart not just for McKendree, but for all of Lebanon.”
After getting to know her better, I was curious as to what she was planning on doing with her time here at McKendree. Her response touched back on the idea of community: “That’s the most valuable part of a small liberal arts school, it’s the kind of relationships you have. You may come here for four or five years, but the relationships last a lifetime.”
She mentioned that as the university chaplain, she also serves in church relations. This means she is McKendree’s representative for other faith communities within the Metro-East. She may be ordained by United Methodist, but as she explained that as a chaplain, she wants to serve all people.
“One of my visions for this role is that we see more people who are Christian, who are Hindu, who are Muslim, who are Jewish, who seek McKendree out because they know they’re welcome.” She told me she wanted to be seen as a chaplain to all and to be an outlet for those who may simply need a place to sit down and share their thoughts. She talked to me about how she wants to be someone to help anyone of any faith find a community nearby so that they may practice their religion in a welcoming and familiar environment.
She told me, “If you happen to be Hindu, it’s my job to help you find a Hindu fellowship while you’re here at college.” She wants to help everyone here at McKendree feel like they’re with family even when they may be thousands of miles from home.
She then moved towards the topic of general fellowship amongst the student body. Rev. Beverly began speaking about the Catholic church that is right on the outskirts of the campus. To my surprise, she shared that every Monday from 5:00-8:00 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, she has dinner with the church and all McKendree students that may want to come. You don’t have to be Catholic, Christian, nor religious at all to come to this dinner. It is meant to be a place for us Bearcats to sit and have a nice fellowship along with an amazing meal. She used the term “radical hospitality” when describing the members of the church hosting this weekly, free dinner. What she meant by this is that they have no agenda and they aren’t trying to sell you anything; they just want you to feel welcome and spread fellowship among the student body at McKendree.
“To me, that is the spiritual part of my job, helping my students feel at home,” shared Rev. Bev. Hearing that she views her position here at McKendree as more than just a pastor brings joy to my heart. This was especially true as she said, “It’s about family. It’s not about being dogmatic on theology, it’s about being human.”
After such a lovely piece of conversation, I shifted things toward the services available at the chapel on campus. There are currently no weekly Sunday services, but Rev. Bev hopes to host worship one or two times a month in the spring semester; her real goal is not just to have fellowship at Bothwell Chapel, but to help students find church families in the community according to their faith. There are, however, services at the chapel for certain events such as New Student Orientation (NSO), homecoming weekend, and Christmas time.
I finished the interview with an important question for Rev. Bev, asking if she has anything to say to the student body and the Review’s audience. She opened her response with, “Don’t be afraid to approach the new chaplain. I am not here to apostolize, to make Christians out of all of McKendree—I’m here to be on the journey. Students, faculty, staff… If you are going through stuff and you don’t know where to start the conversation, drop by my office or send me an email and we can make an appointment, so I can be your listening ears.” Her closing statement was really the grand slam: “I am here for you. I’m not just here for the Christians, I am the campus pastor. I am here for all people because we share a common humanity.”
Rev. Bev and I talked for a few more minutes about what she has done here so far along with a bit of polite chit-chat. As I left her office, I felt happy, reassured, and hopeful for the future of McKendree’s ministry through our new chaplain. Reverend Beverly was a delight to speak to and is always welcoming to visitors at her office, whether you have something to discuss with her or you’re even just a little hungry and would like a snack from food pantry next to her office. I think it’s safe to say we’re in good hands here at McKendree University.