Tamara Shelton has been involved at AU for years, as a former student, resident director, assistant dean of students and director of residence life. Now, she will serve as the campus pastor.
Q: What is your vision for your new role as campus pastor at AU?
A: Of course there are the job description pieces of my role, which includes planning the chapel convocation program, and I’m working with a team of people to do that. But also, I think about it in the terms of being aware of the needs on campus, spiritually and holistically, and then figuring out how to respond to that. If I hear about students who are new in their faith, or if I hear about specific groups of students who are feeling alienated or that they’re not part of the community, then how can I be aware of that and then figure out how to respond so that they can be welcomed in further into the community. Some of those pieces and what that will look like will unfold over time. I definitely want there to be a vibrant spiritual life on campus. There are programs to help that to happen. There is chapel and convocation, small groups and different prayer opportunities, but I also want to help create a space where those things can happen naturally. If students have a dream or a passion of something that they want to have happen on campus, I want students to feel empowered on campus to do that.
Q: What is your role in the lives of students as campus pastor? What kinds of things can students turn to you for?
A: There are a lot of different things. One kind of obvious thing is when students have questions about faith and about God. It’s really natural to have questions and to have doubts. I want students to know that if they’re in that place where they’re having doubts about faith or about God, or maybe it goes beyond doubts to a complete “I don’t want to have anything to do with this,” I want to have those conversations with students and listen to students where they are and hear their stories. I know a lot of students have been hurt by the church in some way, and I know that it’s helpful to talk that out and to be able to think through what that means for them. And as you’re learning different things in classes, it starts to expand your view of the world, humanity and of the church. You start to have questions. I’d like to provide a safe place to listen and to meet students where they are. I’m really passionate about helping students who are believers to grow in their faith, to not just stay where they’re at, but to really experience the fullness and the joy of life that Jesus Christ offers. Something else is that a lot of college students are asking “what am I going to do after college?” A lot of times we might talk about that in terms of calling.
Q: As you transition to your new role, have you had any difficulties adjusting? Do you have any words of wisdom for those struggling with change?
A: I actually really like change. I moved around a lot as a kid, and I was always really excited about it. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been speaking to student leaders and to other various small groups and it’s kind of been a whirlwind. It’s all been really good. After next week [this week], I can really settle into a routine and see exactly what this is going to be like. It is so natural to have a variety of emotions when it comes to change, and there are all kinds of changes right now. The first thing is to be okay with where you are with change. If you’ve got fear, if you’re feeling anxious about change or whatever that emotion is, allow yourself to not put a mask on, but to be okay with feeling how you’re feeling. It’s important not to stay there. So find those people who you can say, “I’m struggling with whatever this change is, and I’m feeling anxious” or whatever that is, and allow yourself to really just be in that moment and really feel it. Talk it out and then through that you can start to move beyond it. The first thing you have to do is acknowledge that it’s hard. I really do believe that God does lead us through change and he will bring peace through that, but we also have to do that through relationship with each other. We could just be really super spiritual and say God will take care of it, and I believe that, but I think God does that through people.
Q: What is your favorite part of working at AU?
A: I love the students. College students are at this beautiful stage of life where the world is fresh with opportunity. You could literally decide to go anywhere, do anything. I love being in that environment. I also know that during these four years, there is more change than any other time in life. I love the questions. I love when the lightbulbs come on. I love the passion. I also love the people that I work with. We have such great people that work at AU. For me, it really is a family. These are people who I love dearly. Even when there are hard times or there is uncertainty, I feel like I can really trust the people that I work with. That sense of stability within the people, I love that. For me, it really is home.
Q: Do you have a specific memory or story from your time at AU, either as a student or a staff member, that sticks out as your favorite?
A: One thing that I realized really clearly in college that I came to understand was God’s grace. I grew up in a home where I was always taken to church and taught about Jesus, and grace is this thing that we kind of throw around. I never really understood what it meant for me. I thought, yeah I need grace because everybody needs grace, and God gives grace because God is God, but it never felt personal for me. And through different experiences in my life and things that happened in college, I remember this moment where I felt like I needed God more than ever before. I don’t think that I literally did, but I feel like I ran to Park Place church, and inside the door there was this little prayer chapel that was open. I feel like in that moment, I realized that I personally need God’s grace. God’s grace is for me. I’m not just lumped in with every person in the world, but that it’s personal. And that was such a beautiful defining moment in my faith. I was a regular performer at Encore when I was a student. I remember one time, I was doing backup at Encore and the song got to one part where the band was going crazy and the backup singers started head banging, and the smoke and the lights were going crazy, and I just bit it. I fell so hard. I don’t think a lot of people noticed because the smoke and lights.
Q: What is your #1 song currently, and why do you enjoy it?
A: I can’t narrow that down, but there are several songs that I’ve been listening to a lot off the new Elevation Worship cd. There is one called “O Come to the Altar” which is beautiful and it talks about how the arms of Jesus are open wide. There’s one that’s a little bit more upbeat called “Grace Like a Wave.” I love metaphors about water, so that song talking about grace crashing over us, I love that one. Also, I love Justin Timberlake, so “Can’t Stop the Feeling” is a good one right now. I like Meghan Trainor a lot. I’ve got four kids, so we love to have dance parties. I like to make sure that my kids have a balanced music repertoire.