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Maintaining a Ministry of Presence

Rev. Dr. William Whitmore views the Irvine Memorial Chapel, the centerpiece of campus, as a place where he hopes students feel welcomed, and continue to feel welcomed and included, regardless of what they believe, what they don't believe, or what they don't know they believe. "I would love to see us have more consistent engagement as a larger community around what it means to have a spirit and to understand our spirit," says Whitmore. "Historically, to be spiritual was to renounce everything about ourselves. Nowadays, we see being spiritual as fulfilling who we are." How he continues to affirm others' spirits, and the community spirit in that fulfillment, are conversations he is eager to have.

"I think what I hope that students gain when they interact with myself, or the chapel, is a recognition that they don't have to perform, to be seen as worthy of attention, praise, or care," says Whitmore. He shares that when students are performing well, they feel better about themselves, but that can be a dangerous way to live a full life. "I think so many of our students, and let's be honest, all of us in general, live in a performance-based identity," says Whitmore. "In fact, I would contend that if all my relationships are based on how I'm performing, I will, at some point, dislike myself because of that. So my hope is to affirm our students, and to show them that there is value to them, including outside of what they can perform in life and how they are performing in class, athletics, socially, etc."

Whitmore's goal is to help students realize that they have value outside of their performance in class or extracurriculars, encouraging students to find meaning in their life at all times. "There is a wonderful world awaiting our students when they leave Mercersburg Academy, and so much of this goodness is not predicated on what we do, but who we are and who we journey with."

Whitmore is currently invested in the five elements of emotional intelligence, which are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. "I talk with students about the five elements, and I am seeing some success in how we engage students. I want students to feel that they have value if they can start to conceptualize a place where they have value outside of what they do in this class, or in the field, or socially, or in a club."

"My approach is what we would call a ministry of presence, which is a chaplaincy term. And ministry of presence is exactly what it sounds like, being there for an individual," says Whitmore. "That is how I share love, care, and concern when investing in people." For Whitmore, finding ways to prioritize presence is always crucial. He quotes the first sentence of author Thomas Merton's book, No Man Is an Island. "A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found; for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy." Whitmore says, "Ultimately, as the spiritual leader of the school, I want our students to see that life in relationship is what we were created for, are made for, and where we thrive."

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