Keeping the faith: Carleton’s chaplain retires from post

Carleton’s ecumenical chaplain, Tom Sherwood, has been honoured with the Interfaith Award from the City of Ottawa and Interfaith Ottawa in recognition of his long career in local multi-faith bridge-building.

It’s one of many awards Sherwood has received throughout his distinguished career.

That career will take a new turn on June 30, when Sherwood retires from being Carleton’s chaplain, a post he’s held for 10 years. He plans to take a short sabbatical and then return to Carleton to teach in the College of the Humanities and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

In his role as chaplain, Sherwood spends much of his time supporting students through a variety of crises. But Sherwood says a highlight is watching those very students he guided away from risk achieve their goals and graduate. That’s why convocation holds a special place in his heart.

“There is a moment during each convocation ceremony when a student and I share a moment,” says Sherwood. “And it’s wonderful to share that moment when they succeed.”

While supporting struggling students through their many challenges has been a major part of Sherwood’s role at Carleton, he has also worked hard to raise the chaplaincy’s profile on campus. To do that, he has been responsible for organizing countless multi-faith panels on timely topics such as gender roles, environmentalism and genocide and has provided a positive presence on many diversity issues and has reached out to Carleton’s GBLT community, including hosting a very popular “Que(e)rying Religion” series in which he brought noted GLBT clergy and laypeople to Carleton.

Looking back over the past decade, Sherwood says he has tried to ensure the chaplaincy is ready to respond with support and the willingness to discuss any unexpected events that may arise. He says the September 11 terrorist attack was one of the most memorable periods for him.

“People were streaming in all day. We had a pastoral team in place of about a dozen people. We did group discussions, individual counselling and religious services,” recalls Sherwood. “It was very traumatic.”

Looking back, Sherwood counts his implementation of a multi-faith approach among his proudest accomplishments. Whether it was bringing in a variety of religious leaders to share their views on discussion panels, or simply his acceptance of all spiritual students regardless of their religious views, Sherwood says he has made sure all faiths are welcome.

“The university appreciates a Christian leader who is not out to convert people,” says Sherwood, also applies this spiritually diverse approach to the classroom while teaching a number of religion courses.

“I’m a Christian leader with an attitude of respect in a multi-faith setting.”

Rev. Wayne Menard, currently a minister of St. David and St. Martin Presbyterian Church in Ottawa, will fill Sherwood’s shoes when he leaves. Asked about following in Sherwood’s footsteps, he said: “Sherwood’s shoes are metaphorically large, as well as being size 14.”

Menard recognizes the challenge ahead of him, but he is excited by the opportunity. “I hope to bring my gifts and talents to this important ministry and hope also to continue the excellent and visionary work in which Tom immersed himself 10 years ago.”

When Sherwood passes his duties to Menard this summer, he will embark on a six-month sabbatical during which he plans to retreat to a family cottage in rural Nova Scotia for lots of thinking, reading and writing.

Sherwood, who is a Carleton graduate himself and an avid Ravens fan, says he can’t stay away from the university for too long and plans to be back teaching courses again in 2010 — a very different role for him. “When I come back, they will want me to stand and speak [in my courses], and I’ll want to listen,” laughs Sherwood. “It’s been my privilege to hear what life is like for students and I’ll miss that very much.”

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