The Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger begins new position as university chaplain

Goddard Chapel is pictured on April 25. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily

The Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger assumed the position of university chaplain last month after her appointment by University President Anthony Monaco in August.

While women have been appointed as university chaplains at Tufts ad interim in the past, Nelson Winger, an ordained minister within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is the first woman to occupy the position of university chaplain at Tufts full time. She assumed the role on Oct. 1. 

Prior to coming to Tufts, she was university chaplain at Illinois Wesleyan University, where she also served as the associate dean of students and associate director of the university’s Center for Human Rights and Social Justice. Nelson Winger holds a master’s degree in divinity from the University of Chicago Divinity School.

University Chaplaincy Program Manager Nora Bond described some of  Nelson Winger’s responsibilities as university chaplain.

“The University Chaplain leads the University Chaplaincy team in supporting all religious, spiritual, and philosophical life at Tufts; educates about spiritual and ethical issues in society and the world; and coordinates pastoral care, multifaith initiatives, and strategic partnerships around the university and beyond,” Bond wrote in an email to the Daily.

Bond also emphasized Nelson Winger’s eagerness to connect personally with as many students as possible, and she encourages students to reach out to her.

“We do our best programming when we work directly with students,” Bond said.

According to Bond, another of Nelson Winger’s goals for the year is to provide support to students regardless of whether or not they identify as religious or spiritual.

“We actively work to undo the myth that the University Chaplaincy is only for religious students. We are here for everyone, including you, whomever you are, and however you do or don’t identify,” Bond said.

Zoe Bair, a junior and the president of the Humanist Community at Tufts, a student organization that welcomes humanists, agnostics, atheists and those who are spiritual but not religious, expressed excitement about Nelson Winger’s appointment. 

“I think the University Chaplaincy is a really great resource that’s super underutilized because I think there can be kind of a stigma about needing to have these religious beliefs in order to take advantage of it,” Bair said.

Bair, who represents the Humanist Community on the Interfaith Student Council, also noted that Nelson Winger has been attending some of the Council’s meetings.

“She was just letting us know that she was there to support us, I think really offering herself as a resource, which I think is really important,” Bair said. “Having a touchpoint person in the Chaplaincy is really useful.”

Sean Moushegian, a senior and the president of the Catholic Community at Tufts, shared his perspective on Nelson Winger’s appointment. He was one of several students involved with the Chaplaincy who had the opportunity to meet with Nelson Winger during her hiring process.

“Tufts Chaplaincy is one of the probably better funded chaplaincies across U.S. campuses because we do have a chaplain for many of the major spiritual foundations,” Moushegian said. “That’s uncommon, most universities may have two or three such chaplains.”

Moushegian described some of the outreach work that Nelson Winger hopes to do at Tufts and beyond. 

“I think the thing that she wanted to change mostly had to do with philanthropic service-oriented efforts the Chaplaincy could perform,” he said. 

Bond spoke to how the Rev. Nelson Winger will further the Chaplaincy’s work toward anti-racism and inclusivity.

“We are a team of professionals who explicitly hold many different identities — it is actually essential that we are all different, on a multifaith team,” Bond said. “This means we actively engage tenets of anti-racism, like respecting difference, committing to unlearning, and choosing to find common ground.”

Bond explained how she believes Nelson Winger will positively contribute to those efforts.

“There is always more to engage in anti-racism, and [Nelson Winger] brings new ways of being to our team that will deepen our abilities to be inclusive,” Bond said.