Checking Back with a Chaplain

by Bart Campolo
Community Builder, Counselor, Conveyor of Hope, and Humanist Chaplain at the University of Southern California (a member of
Los Angeles CoR)

Dear Friends,

As you know, for the past three years I’ve proactively offered community-building, moral inspiration, and pastoral care to some of the world’s most promising students as the first humanist chaplain at the University of Southern California. Thanks primarily to my wife’s generosity, I’ve served as a full-time volunteer while hoping to raise enough financial support to make this ministry sustainable or, better still, get hired on by the university. Unfortunately, while my work here has positively changed lots of young lives, I haven’t figured out how to tell those stories effectively without compromising my students’ confidentiality, and Marty and I can’t hold out until they graduate and become established enough to support this chaplaincy all by themselves.  So then, with the encouragement of some key leaders at USC, I focused on landing a campus job that would allow me to keep doing what I do best.

As you might expect, the members of USC’s Secular Student Fellowship are dismayed at the prospect of my imminent departure. Much to my delight, however, they’re using this moment constructively, by petitioning the administration to boldly hire the nation’s first official secular chaplain to engage and nurture students – and especially incoming freshman – in defining their personal and social values, developing healthy, meaningful relationships, and more carefully considering life’s ultimate questions in the context of their studies and career decisions.

Quixotic as it seems, I’m going along with this effort because, well…eventually some secular university is going to figure out that when it comes to student life, an ounce of prevention is a whole lot cheaper than a thousand pounds of counseling center appointments, sexual assaults, substance abuse, suicide attempts, and unhappy transfers and bad career choices. Besides, if USC’s development team wanted to, they could easily raise enough money to endow this kind of thing in ways I never could. I must say, however, that I’m appreciative that Dean Soni, the Office of Religious Life, and the university as a whole have been nothing but supportive of my work, and that plenty of good people here are trying to help me stay.

So then, here’s my students’ online petition. Please, if you support my work at USC and my positive approach in general, add your name and a brief note, and share it with as many like-minded friends as you can. After all, it’s less about me than it is about promoting this kind of humanist ministry. Whether or not my students convince the bigwigs, it’s beautiful that so many of them—and hopefully so many of the rest of us—are seeing the need for more intentional investment in helping people cultivate loving relationships, work for justice, and develop a genuine sense of wonder and gratitude for the incredible privilege of being alive and conscious in the first place. Really, I think our whole journey here has been a step in the right direction.

Your friend,


P.S. As soon as Marty and I figure out what’s next, we’ll let you know. Rest assured, it will include strengthening the podcast and my Skype counseling/coaching practice, and, well…it’ll be something good!