Rev. Karen Bach, currently director of the Evergreen Centre for Street Youth at Toronto's Yonge Street Mission, was honored in May for her contribution to the ecumenical chaplaincy at the University of Toronto. Presented at Victoria College, the Legacy Award was created this year to celebrate leadership in the work of the university's ecumenical chaplaincy. The chaplaincy board said there "was no question" that Bach should be the award's inaugural recipient.
"I am reminded of the parable of the sower," said Bach, thanking those who have helped continue the work of the chaplaincy. "As a chaplain, you just throw your seeds out and hope some of it grows."
The chaplaincy began in 1990, after Bach, who was a student at the time, asked why there was no Presbyterian chaplain on campus. Before she knew it, the position was approved by the East Toronto Presbytery, and Bach was chosen to do the work. Three years later, the United Church asked Bach if she would consider serving as their chaplain too, creating a joint chaplaincy position. In 2001, it became the ecumenical chaplaincy, pointing to the interdenominational and interfaith work the chaplain actually did – and does – on campus. Bach remained the chaplain until 2002.
In speaking about Bach's contribution, Rev. Dr. Art Van Seters, a former principal of Knox College, listed three things a university chaplain needs: extraordinary sensitivity, a deep grounding in one's own spiritual tradition while being open to other traditions, and the ability to truly engage with people that fosters a deep wrestling with the spirit. "You manifest these three qualities," Van Seters said to Bach. "Personally, you challenged me, and were honest with me, and I know from that, that you must have helped many others in deep ways."
Susan Addario, former director of student affairs at the university, said Bach made the university "more equitable, attainable and inclusive," and that her presence "brought calm, understanding, and healing to the most difficult of situations."
While reminiscing about the joys of the job, Bach told the Record: "I loved the intense, intellectual conversations with students; I loved it when the lights would go on for them … I loved being able to pave a path for other faith leaders to have access to the university's facilities. Most of all I loved the relationships that I had with staff and with students – each one of them felt so sacred.
The U of T ecumenical chaplaincy has received an annual grant of $5,000 from Canada Ministries since 2001. The department gives a total of $41,400 to 13 university chaplaincies across Canada. -A. Machlachlan