Rev. Gabbard leading campus spiritual life development as University chaplain

Release Date: 9/16/2013

Earlier this semester, Rev. Elizabeth Gabbard was named official University chaplain and is excited to usher in a new appreciation of spiritual life on campus.

Rev. Elizabeth Gabbard

Rev. Elizabeth Gabbard was named University chaplain in August after serving as the interim chaplain since January.

Gabbard, originally from Fort Smith, Ark., had served as interim chaplain at Ozarks since January.

A 2003 graduate of Lyon College with a degree in English literature, she went on to attend seminary at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.

"I never thought that I would ever want to attend seminary," she explained. "I started college thinking I was going to be a doctor. As it turns out I'm not very good at biology, which is pretty important for doctors, so I changed my major to English. I had no idea what I wanted to do with that degree, but I liked to read books so it seemed to fit."

It was during Gabbard's senior year at Lyon that she began to consider a career in ministry.

"I had been very involved in the church in my hometown, and I got involved with the church in Batesville while I was in college," Gabbard said. "I did a lot of things with campus ministry, and I remember thinking one day, 'Wow, I'd really like to do this.' We also had a female chaplain while I was in college. That was the first time I had ever seen a female minister, and it helped me see I had options inside the church."

After graduating from seminary, Gabbard worked as a full-time youth pastor, was ordained, and worked as a solo pastor in south Mississippi before moving back to Fort Smith to work for the non-profit Western Arkansas Ballet.

"After some personal struggles, I had decided to take a break from church work. I was working for the Ballet when I found out about the interim position at Ozarks," she said. "When it was first brought to my attention, I opened my mouth to say I wasn't interested and 'Yes' popped out instead. Deciding to return to church work wasn't as difficult as I expected to be. Many colleagues in the church had been pushing me to return to the church, and I had been resisting. But when I heard about this job, something in my spirit just leapt. I felt like I could make a real difference here. I actually think I'm better suited for this role than I am for the traditional church."

Gabbard is excited to take advantage of her new role as official University chaplain.

"I want the chapel to be a place that students know is open to them at all times, and not just the chapel upstairs but the rooms downstairs as well," she said. "I want people to see me as a resource that they can use in multiple ways. People can come to me if they just need someone to talk to, or if they just want to sit in silence with somebody.  I can do that. Whatever people need, I want to be there."  

Gabbard has already been forming relationships at Ozarks and revamping the role of University chaplain and spiritual life on campus.

"We have started Monday morning prayer meetings at 7:45 every week," she said. "I'm also working with Emma Bottorff to develop a sort of Campus Religion Advisory Board, including representatives from all the different religious organizations on campus. We want all the religious organizations on campus to come together and plan campus-wide service projects. We have a lot of manpower here, and it would be awesome to see how much we could accomplish."

Gabbard is enthusiastic about being a part of the Ozarks family and is looking forward to being a valuable spiritual resource for campus.

"I wake up in the morning excited to come to work," she said. "I feel like this a real opportunity for to me let the campus community know that spirituality is important, and not just for students but for everyone on this campus. It's something we have to continue to explore for the rest of our lives."