When students, staff, and families arrive at Woodward in the fall, there will be a new smiling face ready to ask them a very pointed question:
“The most important thing to know about me is that when I ask how you are, I really, truly want to know,” says Woodward’s new chaplain, Megan Lloyd Joiner. “I'm genuinely curious about how people are doing. I want to know what's really going on in people's lives and I really care.”
Chaplain Megan (her preferred on-campus title), will take over from the school’s beloved Katie O’Dunne, aka Chaplain K, who is departing this summer to create the Faith and Mental Health Integrative Services practice in association with the International OCD Foundation. Joiner says she is working closely with O’Dunne to ensure a smooth transition.
“We are so fortunate to have found Chaplain Megan after a national search that yielded many strong applicants. Woodward offers a multifaceted education, and one of the most important components of that education is fostering empathy and emotional intelligence,” says Woodward president F. Stuart Gulley. “Chaplain Megan exhibits the unique qualifications, experience, and disposition to engage with and support Woodward students, staff, and families as they navigate personal crises, growth, and the challenges posed by a complicated and changing society. Her holistic understanding of world religions and the principles underpinning them will help our students better understand each other and better understand themselves.”
Growing up visiting all four grandparents in Atlanta, Joiner was no stranger to the city, but had never lived here herself until she moved in the summer of 2019 to complete a two-year Chaplaincy fellowship at Emory University. She was immersed in Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (a companion, she notes, to the SEE–-Social, Emotional, and Ethical– Learning approach being employed at Woodward) when she became aware of the job opening at Woodward. She was immediately curious: “I've always wanted to teach in a rigorous academic setting,” she says. “I love providing pastoral care to folks and I love multi-faith and interfaith chaplaincy. I love providing care not necessarily tied to a specific religious tradition.”
With her Unitarian Universalist background, Joiner says two of her chief priorities in serving the Woodward populace will include fostering an academic understanding of the tenets of world religions, and establishing connections between people with differently held beliefs.
“I believe strongly in religious literacy–that the ancient stories of multiple traditions in biblical scriptures and the scriptures and stories of other religious traditions are important for how people have made sense of their world,” says Joiner. “So, as students of the world, it's important for us to study them. It's important for us to learn how people have interpreted our world for generations, for thousands of years. Just as we study great literature, I think it's important for us to study the stories and traditions of multiple religions of the world.”
Joiner acknowledges Woodward’s practice of observing school closure in honor of a wide array of religious holidays as an example of its commitment to ensuring that all students are given an opportunity to learn about other religious traditions.
“The other piece for me is that I believe in fostering understanding and connection between people and across differences,” Joiner continues. “I think that learning about each other's deepest held beliefs is a powerful way that we can understand each other better, and when we understand each other better, we can have greater compassion for each other.”
As she enters Woodward, Joiner says at the simplest level, her work is about helping everyone she is connected to feel seen and appreciated: “We talk a lot about tolerance and it's made me think, what does that mean? And what does it feel like when we say that word? It means I'm going to tolerate you. Well, that's not what any of us want. We don't want to be tolerated. We want to be celebrated for who we are, both our individuality, but also what we contribute to the whole.
“We can talk about things like that with kids and move away from the sense that if we lift someone else up, then it means we're putting someone else down. Well, no. How do we lift all of us up as celebrated and beautiful individuals who each have something to contribute to our community? That's what I'm all about and that's what it feels like there's real space to do at Woodward.”