As the longest-serving chaplain in Florida Southern College history, the Rev. Tim Wright, is leaving a legacy for students, even if he isn’t fully sure of his impact. As the head of the campus ministries offices at FSC, Wright has the opportunity to minister to and impact students each year through sermons, fellowship, and other activities.
“You are being in ministry to a group of people for a very specific and a very short amount of time,” Wright said. However, while the job of chaplain may seem straightforward, the FSC alumnus has more responsibilities than students might expect.
Wright has served 18 years in the position of chaplain. After transferring to FSC as an undergraduate, he continued on to Duke University Divinity School with the intention of pursuing his doctorate to become a theology professor. However, after multiple experiences chaperoning youth groups, Wright felt led to ministry. Combining education with religious outreach, campus ministries was his “best of both worlds” situation. However, it took a few years for him to return to Lakeland.
“When I graduated, there wasn’t anything that was available that I was really interested in. The person who had this job still had it, so I was like, well, I guess timing isn’t right for that. So, I took an appointment in a local church,” Wright said.
The Melbourne native’s next appointment was in the Orlando district, where he met another pastor, who happened to be a member of the board of trustees at FSC. When the previous chaplain announced that they were leaving FSC, the board member recommended Wright to the president as a replacement. “They did a national search, and it came down to three different people at the end of it, and I interviewed. So, it took me four years after graduating, but then my dream job became available, and I got it.”
While a few of Wright’s duties may seem obvious, such as preaching on Sundays and generally overseeing the campus ministries, he works in more than just a ministerial context. He also teaches in the religion department, serves as a counselor when needed, and is a member of the college presidential cabinet.
“That gives me various assignments as are warranted. Every year, I get on a couple of committees and task forces that are looking in different needs of the college, whether it be retention, graduation rates, behavior,” Wright said. “I was on the committee that did the Cornerstone. And I report directly to the president, so my job is whatever she tells me she needs done.”
As Wright’s position grew to include responsibilities outside ministry, he had to change his approach, which resulted in the creation of the associate chaplain position.
“If I was going to be needed in other areas, I wanted to make sure we still had someone who would be accessible to students and available the way I had been when I started. Finding that balance took some getting used to,” Wright said.
The current associate chaplain, Bryant Manning, attended FSC and was a student worker in Wright’s office. After Manning graduated from seminary at Duke, Wright asked him to come back to Florida. Now as colleagues, Manning says that Wright “was a voice for me.”
“He gave me a chance when I didn’t have a chance, he gave me a job and he was very influential in my life in my call to ministry,” Manning said.
While Wright’s job has changed with the addition of the associate chaplain, the role of chaplain still has some of the same jobs as a typical pastor. However, the audience and time frame differ. Working with undergraduates, he knows that his time with students is limited in terms of years.
“In a local church, you have the luxury of consistency. There are many members who have been at the church their entire lives. On a college campus, the most we get with students is four to five years,” Wright said.
While he acknowledges the limitations, the chaplain wants to make the most of his time with students. He said that one of the biggest things he’s learned from his job is patience.
“One of the things I appreciate so much about my job is working with 18 to 22-year-olds in whom I see so much potential and so many things that they can be doing in the life of the church and in the Kingdom (of God),” Wright said. “It really excites me, and I want them to reach that potential right now. And I’ve had to learn patience because, you know what, they have to go through their own growth.”
Over the years, Wright has left an impact on many students, whether it be as a pastor, mentor, teacher or counselor. “He was totally willing to help me excel in a career path and gave me all the information I needed,” sophomore Mellina Evert said.
The chaplain said that the most rewarding part of his job is watching students grow in their faith, as well as personally. However, he has also been influenced by the students of FSC.
“Working with young people…I see their potential and I think of the way that they’re going to do things. It just gives me hope that all the ways that my generation might’ve screwed things up, that maybe the next generation’s going to come in and have an impact,” Wright said.
FSC is a historically United Methodist-affiliated school, making the position of chaplain a recognizable position within the institution. Those who have served before Wright have left legacies of their own, which could appear daunting to follow. However, this chaplain doesn’t think about what he does in terms of legacy because he doesn’t think of what he does as belonging to him.
“If I had to pinpoint a legacy, everybody who I’ve ever had a chance to be in ministry with, if they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God loved them,” Wright said. “If this is the only place they ever heard that, and it came out of my mouth, and they saw it in what we’re trying to do here on campus, then I’d be pretty satisfied with that.”