Kurt Nelson assumes positions of new Director of Religious & Spiritual Life and Chaplain for the Protestant Community

Silvia Buonocore, News Editor

Beginning in January, Reverend Kurt Nelson assumed the positions of Director of Religious & Spiritual Life and Chaplain for the Protestant Community. In these positions, Nelson works closely with the other chaplains of the University to gather multi-faith communities. In particular, Nelson prioritizes connections between one another and fostering a cohesive community. “The question of belonging feels really important to me–find time to find your people,” Nelson said.


The University had been without a chaplain for about a year. Nelson was recruited by the University and was most drawn to accept the position because of the leadership and intellect present at the University. He explained that while there are some changes to make to the program, he is looking forward to working alongside “wonderful potential new partners.”


Nelson further shared his excitement regarding the enhancement of the community at the University. “That’s what institutions like this are really about. By living in close quarters, it is essential to get to know folks coming from a wide array of walks of life, beliefs, practices, and cultural backgrounds. This provides a real opportunity to build friendships, supportive communities, and connections and that can be really life-altering and significant for our community here,” Nelson said.


His first goal for this semester is to build and expand multi-faith and interfaith patterns at the University. Through gathering the council on Tuesday nights, Nelson hopes to push out their work into the broader community. He also strives to support the staff to do their best work and welcome all members of the University.


For the past six and a half years, Nelson served as the Dean of Religious & Spiritual Life at Colby College in Maine. Prior to that, he worked at Dartmouth College. Currently, Nelson lives with his wife Joanna, a violin teacher, their two young children, Lillian and Elliott, and the family’s dog, Grover. His hobbies include spending time with his children, watching basketball, and fitness–he previously participated in CrossFit.


Having roots in the Midwest, Nelson grew up in a progressive church-going household. While he was raised Lutheran, he left the church when the denomination decided not to include members of the LGBTQ+ community as pastors, which Nelson believes to be a “cowardly decision.”


Nelson completed his undergraduate studies at St. Olaf College. As a bright student, he was initially on the pre-med track but realized he was unhappy during his sophomore year. He became increasingly interested in the study of religious texts, histories, cultures, and traditions, but Nelson specifically recalls the turning point in his life: On the morning of Sept. 11 on his way to invertebrate zoology class, when he saw the attacks on the World Trade Center on TV. He explained, “It became clear in that moment that invertebrate zoology was not for me–that’s not what my life was meant to be about.”


From then on, he was inspired to pursue the studies of religion and religious pluralism. He attended Yale Divinity School as a graduate student where he became most interested in the work of chaplains. He is particularly fond of relationships he had with faculty that he said, “helped me find my spark, and that really changed my life for the better, so I want to be in a position where I can affect that for others.”


When planning services at the University, Nelson focuses on being thoughtful, brief, and authentic. He is most interested in engaging in conversation with others to see what they are thinking and hoping to explore throughout their lives. Nelson also focuses on the question of belonging and finding a place in the world, as he believes that connections with one another are essential. “I think there are really important resonant questions that communities do an okay job of asking and that we do a really bad job of asking together in public,” Nelson said.


On a larger scale, Nelson understands that students are asking more of the institutions they attend in terms of facets such as mental health, equity, and social justice. Nelson strives to explore different ways to build friendship and communities in this era of distraction and disconnect. “Some of the ways we used to build friendship and communities don’t work now, but I think friendship and communities still really matter,” Nelson said.


There is an upcoming Installation Service on March 24 at 2 p.m. to mark the beginning of service to the community and celebrate fostering a relationship with the community. The objective of the service is to reach out to everyone and create a sense of solidarity in which people can explore important questions together. Nelson’s good friend and Dean of Religious and Spiritual life at Trinity College, Allison Read, will also be assisting with this service.


“Everything that happens in religious and spiritual life here at Bucknell is open to everyone. Atheism and Agnosticism are not an excuse for not being involved. I hope to increase vibrant points of connection and ways in which we can explore some of the deeper questions together, and I’m excited to figure out how best to do that here,” Nelson said.

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