For the past 27 years Timothy Stevens has been pastor to the Church in the Chapel, the small congregation at Alice Millar Chapel. But he is also shepherd to a much larger flock.
“People ask, ‘How large is your congregation?’ And I say, ‘Well, 8,000 undergraduates and 8,000 graduate students and faculty and staff and all the alumni.’ It goes on and on.”
Stevens (G82, 90), an Indianapolis native who was ordained in the United Church of Christ, never intended to become a university chaplain. After he graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary, his wife, Priscilla Wilkins Stevens (G79, 82), applied to a master’s program in applied mathematics at Northwestern.
“The intention was to be here for one year,” Stevens says. “It’s been a long year.”
His wife eventually earned a doctorate in biochemistry, and Stevens went to work in human resources at the University, earned a master’s degree in English and then became a full-time doctoral student.
When the job of University chaplain opened up, he applied, and though he didn’t make the finalist list, Stevens was asked to serve as interim chaplain when the search came up empty. A year later the job was his.
In his quarter century as University chaplain, Stevens has been there in times of triumph — offering the invocation and hooding the honorary degree recipients at Commencement — and in times of crisis.
“Whenever anything happens, he’s on the list to call,” says Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs. “He’s been very, very supportive when we’ve had crises. His calming presence made a big difference last year,” when the University dealt with the deaths of three undergraduate students.
Students and staff alike talk about his disarming personality, his calm, comforting demeanor, his openness and inclusiveness. Erica McLin (SESP13), a former Interfaith Hall resident who grew up in a Protestant family, says Stevens helped shape her understanding of what it means to be Christian.
“I learned from him that I can be accepting of people of different faiths,” McLin says. “It’s OK to understand their religion from their point of view. It doesn’t make me less of a Christian.” — S.H.