When Rev. Dr. Anne McKee announced that she would be resigning as Maryville College’s Campus Minister earlier this year, the whole campus felt the blow. Her easygoing, openminded outlook and diligence toward maintaining a safe, respectful environment for all made the Center for Campus Ministry (CCM) a central hub for people of all faiths, spiritualities and interests in chapel life. To lose her was akin to losing a limb, and when the fall semester started back up in August, so too did the phantom pains of McKee.
Campus needed a prosthetic: someone to come in for the short term and fill the void McKee left. To maintain what had been built, and to ensure the support systems already in place would not atrophy while interviewing and approving an appropriate long-term option, the College elected to hire an Interim Campus Minister.
Enter Jamie Webster.
“I feel like it’s very serendipitous. I was moving back, and [McKee] was exiting this job, so it seem[ed] like a perfect fit for me.”
A native Tennessean, Webster holds a Bachelor’s in History with a minor in Religious Studies from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she also completed a post-baccalaureate in Elementary Education. Eight years ago, she moved with her husband and kids to Massachusetts for his job.
“[I was thinking] what are we going to do if we move to Boston for my husband’s job,” Webster said.
After all, her whole life and career were based in Tennessee, specifically in Blount County where she’d worked as a teacher and community organizer. Those two were not always mutually exclusive either; Webster worked as a teaching artist for multiple nonprofit and underserved youths’ organizations with the majority of her early career in service to the Community School of the Arts in Knoxville, Tennessee.
At the community school, Webster recalled how rewarding and humbling it was to be both teacher and student. She was teaching dance and movement curricula, but she was also learning how to show up “as a better support [and] a better ally”.
Beyond the classroom, Webster also worked in the Blount and Alcoa communities to welcome and help integrate immigrating families into the community, especially families for whom English was not their primary language. In 1991, she worked with the grassroots-turned-statewide organization Save Our Cumberland Mountains, a civic engagement organization then primarily based in Middle and East Tennessee.
For one year, Webster worked through a grant-funded outreach position to connect Middle and East Tennessee teens with their West Tennessee counterparts. She organized and led summer camps at both Middle Tennessee State University and Maryville College.
There was, however, one thing that Boston had that Blount County didn’t: seminary. For 25 years, she had been considering what her next steps in the church might be. And although the move was uprooting, it turned out to be everything she needed.
“I really loved being on campus again,” said Webster, who received her master’s in divinity from the Boston University School of Theology. “It wasn’t a long jump for me to realize [that] campus ministry would be such a wonderful fit for my interests, and that brings us to here and now.”
Though she is excited to be back on a college campus in general, Webster is particularly excited to be back on Maryville College’s campus. She has fond memories of teaching stage movement during the summers at the Clayton Center for the Arts and spending time admiring the pastoral landscape.
Her main goals are to introduce herself to the campus community and to keep chapel as “student-led” as she can to minimize disruption and maximize engagement. To facilitate the latter, she has already moved her office from the second floor to one on the first floor to make it easier for students, faculty and staff to pop in and chat.
She’s not the only one excited, either. Senior at MC and enter for Campus Ministry intern, Sarah Rackley, was enthusiastic in her praise, saying, “Jamie has been a lovely addition to the CCM! She is ready to start new programs up again, be there for students, and all around be a positive presence.”
For her part, Webster recognizes that some students may be hesitant to connect with a new minister, especially if they’ve previously been burned by a religious authority, but she wants every student – religious, non-religious, or somewhere in-between – to know that the MC Chapel will always be a safe, loving and affirming space.
“[I want] everyone to recognize that they are awesome and wonderfully made, in my tradition, but also that we all matter,” said Webster. “Each one of us matters, and each one of us is loved… unconditionally.”