The Rev. Mara LeHew Bailey, the new chaplain at Simpson College, needed little time to adjust to Smith Chapel on campus.
After all, she was married there.
“So it’s kind of fun to walk through these doors every day,” says Bailey, who graduated from Simpson in December 2005.
Bailey returned to campus July 1 in her new capacity as Simpson’s chaplain, replacing Fritz Wehrenberg, who retired.
“When I thought about going into campus ministry, I thought with my experiences at Simpson, it would be a great place to return to,” she says. “I just assumed it would be a lot further down the road.”
Bailey’s Simpson Experience began during the summer of her freshman year in college, when she worked at Wesley Woods near Indianola. At the time, she was attending college in Wisconsin.
“After spending the summer with the staff and experiencing the mutual support for living out my faith, I realized I wasn’t getting that in my college experience, and they told me how that was happening at Simpson,” she says.
Bailey transferred, and never regretted it.
What did Simpson have that her other college didn’t?
“I think it was the vital, active community that came out of the Religious Life Community here,” she says. “The fact that there were students committed to living out their faith on campus, seeing opportunities to grow in that and to make sure that other students knew about the opportunities available.
“A big part of it for me was the leadership opportunities. I was able to lead a Bible study, be a part of the Praise team and be a part of campus worship. That allowed me to discover within myself some of these gifts and skills.”
She specifically credits Jim Hayes, now associate dean and director of CVIL, and religion professor Jan Everhart for providing guidance.
Which prompts the obvious question: What will it be like working as a colleague with people who were mentors and professors?
“I get asked that question all the time,” Bailey says, laughing. “Since I’ve been working as a staff member at Nebraska Wesleyan the past three years, I think that’s really helped me make that transition from the viewpoint of a student to the viewpoint of the staff. Being on the staff side of things, you see the bigger picture a little better.”
At Simpson, Bailey majored in religious studies and took music as a minor. She then obtained her Master of Divinity at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. From there, she worked as campus minister at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.
Bailey says one of her first goals will be strengthening Simpson’s longstanding ties with the United Methodist Church.
“Helping the school better develop its identity as a United Methodist-affiliated institution is important, so students know what that means and faculty and staff know what that means, and why it’s a great thing.
“We have a bishop in the conference who cares very strongly about it, Jay Simmons as the new president cares strongly about it, and a United Methodist chaplain who will make sure that’s a big part of who we are. That’s something that people really want to see strengthened right away.”
In her brief time in the job, Bailey has already noticed changes from her student days.
“I think (Religious Life) has grown a lot through making more connections across campus, partnering with different groups and finding other resources among the faculty and staff and not just the people who are hired to do this work,” she says. “Everyone at Simpson seems committed to making sure this is a strong vital program that’s well supported by the institution itself.”
Bailey met her future husband, Jon, while both were Simpson students in Everhart’s Old Testament class. They were married in 2006 after they both graduated.
Jon is also an ordained United Methodist minister, and recently began working at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Urbandale.
The couple has a son, Eli, 18 months old.
Bailey said her job will allow her to sit in the congregation while John preaches on Sundays.
Does she critique him?
She laughs. “He asks for that.”
Asked what a new chaplain prays for during her first week on the job, Bailey replied, “To really have open ears. I’m trying to get around to meet as many people as possible, and just hear what people have to say about what they love about Simpson, what they hope for the Chapel program, what they hope for the ways we can work together to benefit the students especially but the Simpson community as a whole.”
“Just asking for the wisdom and guidance to learn and not assume that I know because of having had experience here previously.”