At the tail end of chapel on Wednesday, President Philip Ryken announced that the new chaplain for the fall of 2015 will be Reverend Timothy Blackmon, the current senior pastor and head of staff at The American Protestant Church of The Hague in the Netherlands, effective in July.
Fresh from taking the chaplain’s lectern for the first time, Blackmon told The Record that “It feels as if I’m 16 and I just got my driver’s license, but I’m super excited that I have the chance to explore what God has in the future.”
Blackmon will be the first Wheaton chaplain who is a person of color. Director of the Office of Multicultural Development Rodney Sisco, who was a member of the chaplain search committee, said, “I think some people will be deeply overjoyed, and there will be some who are a little worried, asking, ‘Have we made some sort of strange mistake?’ I think there will be some folks who push against the college.”
Wheaton College continues to stress the deepening of ethnic diversity at an institutional level, emphasizing in its strategic priorities that “our Savior designed our diversity, and Wheaton College must seek to honor his lordship by diligently pursuing reconciliation and celebrating our unity in Christ.”
The 2014 fall enrollment figures for Wheaton College state that African-American students represent 2.3 percent of the student body.
Sisco conveyed excitement about a “person of color leading the chaplain’s office,” suggesting that Blackmon’s appointment will enhance diversity on campus.
One specific method to advance Wheaton’s strategic priorities is “continuing to broaden the range of speakers and worship traditions represented in chapel services.”
Sisco suggested that Chapel services will be illuminated by the broader range of speakers available to the college through a chaplain from a vastly different background.
When asked about the decision to employ Blackmon as the first non-white chaplain, Sisco said, “I think change is change, and change is always difficult. Chaplain Blackmon is going to be seen differently. But for the person who argues that Wheaton shouldn’t have (hired him) … the answer is, ‘Because we’ve prayerfully considered it and took due diligence and time to wrestle through it, this is who we felt the Lord was leading us to.’”
Expounding upon the selection process, Sisco said, “The president required that each of us on the chaplain search committee have at least two or three people to regularly pray for us in that search process. There was debate and push, but ultimately, each of us felt that this is a gifted man who has a combination of skills, passions and a personality that will help us move forward as a college.”
Current interim chaplain David McDowell, the current interim chaplain, is scheduled to finish his service at Wheaton College after the spring semester of 2015. He expressed his gratefulness to the Wheaton community for his experience.
“I think I’ve grown spiritually as a person,” McDowell said. “This has been a rich, educational experience for me, and I’ve been tremendously impressed at the commitment of the faculty and staff to students here. I’ve learned so much, and this has been a wonderful, refreshing immersion in the next generation that I think has really encouraged my soul and given me great hope for the world and for the church.”
McDowell hopes to pursue a career in church ministry, and is considering occupying the role of an interim pastor at a church in the midst of transitioning to a new pastor.
“I’d also love to teach, especially students who are heading into pastoral ministry, and be a part of their growth and development,” he said.
The chaplain search committee looked for candidates of various backgrounds, but Blackmon proved best suited for Wheaton’s needs.
Sisco spoke highly of “(Blackmon’s) ability to connect to all of our strategic priorities in a unique and deep way,” referencing the deepening of ethnic diversity, Wheaton’s commitment to a global outlook, promotion of the liberal arts education and enhancement of musical and performing arts.
Blackmon’s past seems to fit a school pursuing those priorities. Not only does he have an education from a Christian liberal arts college and an expertise with musical worship leading, he also has a background which includes many years serving at his church in the Netherlands.
Blackmon told The Record that making the transition from that occupation will demand a huge change for him and his family.
“We’re looking for the best way and timing to (move), but I couldn’t be more excited for what’s going to happen here,” he said.
McDowell said, “I think that if Tim Blackmon experiences half of the love and affirmation that I’ve experienced here in my brief year, he will be a blessed man. I think it’s going to be a great marriage between him and the Wheaton campus.”