For more than two decades, Dean of the Chapel Patrick Powers educated and ministered to the Rollins community.
For the past 22 years, Patrick Powers has been dean of Knowles Memorial Chapel, a teacher in the classroom, and chaplain to the campus. And that’s just a small part of his impact.
During what he calls “my pilgrimage here,” Powers blessed pets, opened up the Chapel to diverse religious groups, held memorable Easter sunrise services, welcomed incoming first-year students with the beloved Candlewish ceremony, gathered the campus together in times of national or local tragedies, and dug into his emergency fund to help students in need.
The Congregational minister also witnessed many milestones in students’ lives. “I have educated students, performed some of their marriage ceremonies, and even baptized some of their children,” says Powers, who will retire at the end of May.
Indeed, he officiated at 422 weddings in Knowles Chapel that involved students, alumni, faculty, or their children, according to recent tally done by his administrative assistant, Joanne Granberry ’86 ’88MA.
Rollins President Emeritus Thaddeus Seymour ’80H, who is a member of Power’s congregation, said he appreciates the minister’s spiritual insights and the practical wisdom he brought with him from his previous job at the Christian Service Center in Orlando.
He also knows how to add a little humor, where appropriate. “His services are very personal and respectful of the spiritual origins of Rollins,” Seymour says. “But he’s about the only person I know who can make people laugh during a benediction.”
Richard James, associate professor emeritus of computer science, said he is impressed by his friend’s ability to teach and inspire.
“I like going to his services because I learn so much from Pat’s sermons,” James says. “He always puts the Biblical readings in perspective—what was going on then; how it applies to now. So it is very much of a learning experience, which demonstrates the level of scholar that Pat is.”
After 22 years, he could be excused for coasting through his last few weeks on the job, but Powers’ thoughts keep returning to his flock. He questions himself: What could I have done better? He worries for his congregation: What new services will they need in the future?
The next dean of Knowles Chapel, Powers says, should be both “liturgically and technically equipped.” In other words, the next dean of the Chapel should know both the Bible and Facebook and how to link the two in a spiritually fulfilling way. That’s something that, frankly, baffles him.
“I would like to think that the next dean of the Chapel would be more skilled at that than I,” Powers says. “To me, Bible study still means sitting around with people in chairs, drinking coffee. But we need to communicate with students where they are, whether on Facebook or elsewhere.”
However, Powers still believes face-to-face discussions are fundamental to creating communities on campus. “When I first came here, I would go over to the cafeteria and just sit down at a table with students I didn’t know and get to know them. I would hesitate to do that today and interrupt their smartphone time.”
The next dean also should know how to compete with the distractions of digital media.
“Too many students live in a world of [electronic] noise. I think it makes them a little more isolated in their social fabric, although they seem settled about it. For me, the entrée to self-discovery is meditation and alone time, so you can listen to your own thoughts and have centering prayer and sense the divine within us. I’m just afraid that this which is so important to me doesn’t appeal to them.”
However, if Powers sensed a generational divide, it hasn’t stopped a steady stream of students from seeking his advice. “Pat has a way about him that is very approachable. It’s like a welcome,” says Granberry, who has worked for Powers during all 22 years of his tenure.
Typical of his all-encompassing approach was his reaction when members of his family were seriously hurt while watching the Boston Marathon in 2013. The bomb blast injured his nephew, sending him into shock. His sister suffered a broken bone and shrapnel wounds. His brother-in-law lost a leg to the explosion. Though devastated, Powers held a campus service for everyone who was touched or simply shocked by the horror.
A year later, Powers finds spiritual strength in the recovery. His nephew ran in the marathon this year, and his sister and her husband were chosen to hold up the finish-line banner for the winner to cross. “It’s tremendous,” he says.
Powers says he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife and returning to a life of meditation and reading, following his retirement.
He hopes to maintain his Rollins friendships, but as he pointed to his shelves full of books, all waiting to be read or re-read, he noted: “Those are my friends, too.”