After a two-year vacancy in the position, the school appointed Reverend Anne Gardner as the school Chaplain. The appointment of Gardner, who will serve as Chaplain on both campuses, fills the opening left by the retirement of former Upper School Chaplain Father J. Young and the departure of Middle School Chaplain Rabbi Emily Feigenson.
Gardner, an Episcopal priest who previously served as Director of Spiritual and Religious Life at Phillips Academy Andover, will join the school next summer. Head of Upper School Laura Ross said she hopes that Gardner will continue the legacies of Young and Feigenson, while also bringing new perspectives and ideas to the position.
“What stood out to us [in her interview], and when we called her references, what they talked about was her connection with students,” Ross said. “That felt to us like it would be honoring the legacy of [Young] because it was something he cared about so much. It was clear to us that what was most important to her was building strong enough relationships with students that she will be able to figure out what we need.”
Gardner’s stay at Andover
During her tenure at Andover, Gardner introduced community-building initiatives, such as a school-wide activities to commemorate Veterans Day and open discussion groups that examined culture, politics and religion in today’s society. Gardner said that she aims to bring this approach to the school , serving as a counselor for not only Christians or religious students but also for all members of the school community.
“The most important thing is that I need to get to know all of you,” Gardner said. “Before anything else, I need to get to know what your community is all about, and the best way to do that is not to talk but to listen. To listen to students, to listen to faculty and to listen to staff about what kinds of things they may want from someone in this position.”
Pros and Cons
After Young retired in 2018, the school administration weighed the positives and negatives of having a chaplain at a non-sectarian school. President Rick Commons said that the administration launched a search in 2018 to find someone who could provide an ethical and spiritual perspective, but was not looking specifically for a religious leader. In the wake of deaths of history teacher Eric Zwemer and Associate Head of School Liz Resnick, the school realized the important role that religion has for many community members and decided to renew a nationwide search for the role of Chaplain, Commons said.
“In times of normalcy, I hope [Gardner] will give us a reminder of things beyond ourselves-purposes, ideals, concerns beyond the ones we have,” Commons said. “I hope she will help us be a stronger community. In times of celebration, I imagine at convocation when we all come together to have a blessing, I expect Reverend Gardner will seek blessings for all regardless of faith. And I know that it will be the case in times of grief, having her consoling us and reminding us how to grieve and remember and recover.”
Challenges for the future
Though Gardner said her role at the school will be a new challenge, she looks forward to working together with students and administration and to helping the community in any way she can.
“I am going to have to figure out what works best so that I can really maintain a presence at both campuses,” Gardner said. “I want to make sure people don’t feel that just because the role has been now relegated to one person, that that will be the only religious perspective that the school has. I will work hard to ensure that everyone who belongs to whatever religious tradition they have is suited and served by the chaplaincy at Harvard-Westlake.”