But Howard and his fellow staff members in the Office of the Chaplain are available year-round, serving as the heart of religious life at Penn by providing pastoral support, guidance, and informal advising and counseling for faculty, staff, and students.
Comprised of three full-time staff members and a rotating group of as many as five part-time fellows, the Chaplain’s Office—which recently moved from Locust Walk to a new, more spacious home in Room 240 of Houston Hall—offers services and resources by walk-in or appointment.
“We’re here for really the entire Penn community, regardless of what their beliefs may be,” Howard says. “Whether they want to talk about the stresses or joys of their daily lives to what they thought about the Eagles game the day before. We love talking and that’s what we’re here for—to be a shoulder and an ear for people.”
Howard and his staff also serve as a resource for anyone in the Penn community seeking ministry services, whether for weddings and commitment ceremonies or funerals and memorial services. The Chaplain’s Office charges a small fee for wedding services, and all proceeds go toward student programming and community service initiatives. Howard says that he and his staff have officiated as many as 30 weddings per year.
“There are hard moments with what we do, but weddings are one of the great joys of the job,” Howard says.
Another priority of the Chaplain’s Office is to support community service initiatives and create opportunities for members of the Penn community, especially through CHORDS, the faith-based community partnership program led by the Chaplain’s Office and PRISM, Penn’s interfaith student leadership group.
The Chaplain’s Office, along with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and Civic House, were recently honored for these efforts as one of four finalists in President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Penn was the only non-religious organization chosen as a finalist.
“We’re focused mainly on localizing our students—and really the entire University—to serve in West Philadelphia, particularly in houses of faith and in schools associated with houses of faith,” Howard says.
For anyone looking to get involved, or for more information on the Chaplain’s Office resources, visit the Office of the Chaplain website.