Methodist campus minister named university chaplain, director of religious life at Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Rev. Mark Forrester, an affiliated United Methodist chaplain and campus minister at Vanderbilt, will now take on the top job as university chaplain and director of the Office of Religious Life.

The Rev. Mark Forrester (image by Hatcher & Fell Photography)
The Rev. Mark Forrester (image by Hatcher & Fell Photography)

Forrester has been a United Methodist chaplain affiliated with the university’s Office of Religious Life since 1994. Previously he was a United Methodist campus minister and director of The Wesley Foundation at Austin Peay State University for three years. He also served as an ordained deacon/elder under full-time appointment to the local church in Nashville, serving five local churches as minister and associate minister for eight years.

During his 18 years at Vanderbilt, Forrester’s work has included counseling students about personal issues and helping them explore questions of faith. He has provided pastoral support in times of crisis as well as officiated worship and public prayer services and created and coordinated educational and community service opportunities for students. He also has been responsible for the administration of The Wesley Foundation at Vanderbilt.

The mission of Vanderbilt’s Office of Religious Life, which is overseen by the Office of the Dean of Students, is educational, not only for the students and groups who are traditionally religious, but by way of raising ethical questions and issues of value and character among the student body at large.

“We view ethical and spiritual formation as integral to educating the ‘whole person’ and to the university’s overall educational mission. Mark has worked at Vanderbilt for many years and is a seasoned professional who is also a graduate of our divinity school. We are excited that he has taken on this new role, continuing his commitment to the university and to Nashville,” said Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Richard McCarty.

During the past year, questions arose around religious life at Vanderbilt, particularly how the university’s nondiscrimination policy applies to religious student groups – some of which feel their beliefs and missions are inconsistent with the policy designed to protect the entire Vanderbilt community from discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation.

Forrester said he welcomes this kind of dialogue on campus and believes “faith via conversation” can play an important role.

“The faith we practice weekly through prayer, liturgy and study are core teachings that help shape and maintain personal continuity with tradition, but what vitalizes these beliefs are the experiences that cause us to grapple with them. And we can only grapple with truth within the free-flowing, ‘all-doubts-are-welcome’ dynamic of religion,” he said.

Forrester assumes the post Sept. 1. The Rev. Gretchen Person has served as interim director of the Office of Religious Life since 2011.

A graduate of Trevecca Nazarene College in Nashville, Forrester earned a master of divinity degree from Vanderbilt Divinity School and a doctor of ministry from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.

He is member of the National Campus Ministry Association and the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association and serves as a Tennessee Annual Conference District Board of Ordained Ministry mentor for professional students seeking candidacy and as a field education supervisor for students pursuing master of divinity and master of theological degrees at Vanderbilt Divinity School.