Beyond the Pulpit
Brother Larry Whitney carries his faith into the community
In the slide show above, Larry Whitney reflects on his role as chaplain for community life at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. Photos by Kalman Zabarsky
Growing up, Lawrence Whitney suspected that his relationship with God was different. While other children squirmed during Sunday school lessons, Whitney sat enthralled by stories of Jesus and His disciples. Years later, when teenage peers ditched church for late Saturday nights and leisurely Sunday mornings, Whitney continued to worship with his family’s United Methodist congregation in suburban Maryland.
“My relationship with God was something that was almost taken for granted,” he remembers. “Of course God was there. Why shouldn’t He be?”
Today Whitney (STH’08,’11), now known as Brother Larry, is the chaplain for community life at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. An ordained priest in the Lindisfarne Community, he seeks to live a life of prayer, study, work, and rest, while overseeing the ministry department.
On a campus the size of BU’s, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd, which is why Whitney is a familiar fixture at many University functions. “Someone from the Dean of Students Office once joked that it’s not a BU event without Brother Larry showing up,” he says. “We at Marsh believe it’s important to be in the community and be a witness to the idea that sacred and secular are not separate worlds.”
As the chaplain for community life, Whitney oversees 12 part-time associates and works closely with the chapel’s Interfaith Council, a student group that promotes religious diversity. He began working at the chapel in 2006, when the Rev. Robert Hill, dean of Marsh Chapel, invited him to join the staff as a chaplain associate for first-year students. He moved to his current role two years ago. In addition to administrative duties, he counsels students in all areas, from roommate conflicts to spiritual guidance.
“As a child, my religious convictions were deeply formed by the stories of the Bible and the life of Jesus,” Whitney says. “But as I got older, I realized that not everything in the Bible makes sense. Scripture contradicts itself, and I didn’t know how to reconcile my faith with other religious beliefs across the world.”
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred less than two weeks after Whitney began his freshman year at Ithaca College. Frightened and bewildered, he sought solace by attending a Eucharist for peace and healing. The event, sponsored by the Lindisfarne Community, an ecumenical neomonastic religious order, helped Whitney come to terms with his grief, and his uncertainties. “Gradually, I learned that questions are at the heart of what it means to be a faithful person,” he says.
The Lindisfarne Community, which Whitney soon joined, refers to itself as “an emerging church that explores new ways of being Christian in the 21st century, open to insights from other traditions in the belief that all truth is God’s truth.”
Whitney intended to be professed in both the Lindisfarne Community and the United Methodist Church (UMC), but when the UMC defrocked Pennsylvania minister Irene Elizabeth Stroud for being a lesbian, he broke ties with his childhood denomination. “I couldn’t see myself continuing in that tradition,” he says. “It seemed so antithetical to what Christ taught, which was acceptance of all people as they are.”
Whitney graduated from Ithaca College in 2005 and entered BU’s School of Theology that fall. He joined the staff of Marsh Chapel in 2006, the same year he was ordained a deacon in the Lindisfarne Community. In June 2009, he was consecrated a priest. “The act of ordination instills the role of celebrating the Eucharist,” he explains. “Many Christian traditions, mine included, believe that when a person is ordained, he stands in Christ’s place at the Eucharistic table.” Even though Whitney is now a priest, he prefers to remain Brother Larry, he says, because “I don’t see ministry as a paternal role. Ministry is more of a sibling role.”
Although he occasionally preaches at Marsh Chapel’s 11 a.m. Sunday worship service, most of Whitney’s work takes place away from the pulpit. “I prefer it that way,” he says. “I tend to think of ministry as an accompaniment — a voice in the midst of all the other voices that make up the rich diversity of university life.”
That perspective transforms ministry into a 24-hour job, 365 days a year. “My abbot once told me, ‘Don’t go into ministry unless you can’t find meaning and fulfillment in anything else,’” Whitney recalls. “You don’t choose this path; it chooses you.”
Vicky Waltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments