Co-Chaplain and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion Lang Brownlee announced in the spring of 2016 that he was stepping away from his role as chaplain after 15 years of service. Shortly after, the University of Indianapolis began looking for a qualified individual to fill the position. In August 2016, the university announced that Rev. Arionne Williams had been hired. Williams began serving as associate chaplain on Sept. 12.
Williams worked for the Social Security Administration for eight years as a lead instructor for training programs in Kansas City, Mo. prior to coming to UIndy. She earned her Master of Divinity degree from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. She spent five years leading youth ministries and two years working in women’s ministry. In the spring of 2016, she created and led the “iSlay Bible Study Series: Secrets of the Savvy, Successful Women of the Bible,” inspired by Beyonce’s song “Formation.”
Williams’ work in women’s ministry helped her discern her call to chaplaincy, she said. In October 2015, she was invited to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania to do workshops and lead a women’s conference based on her book, “Love Like I’ve Never Been Hurt: How to Heal from Heartbreak.” She spent a week there as author in residence, hosted by the dean of the chapel, living on campus, and interacting with students. The dean encouraged her to explore the idea of university chaplaincy.
“It was crazy, because this man had known me for all of three to four weeks, just in our planning for the trip,” Williams said. “He didn’t really know me. And then while I was doing all the work, I just felt so connected to it and this idea of working with students. I was really discerning that God was calling me to university chaplaincy. It was something I’d never thought of, and then suddenly it was all I could think about. I started to pray about it.”
After a conversation with her godfather and spiritual mentor, who encouraged her to continue praying about the decision, Williams found out about the open position at UIndy and immediately applied. She was offered the position and accepted the job in the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Programs. She said she felt like it was time for a transition from her current job and that God was opening doors for her.
“I just [had this] feeling like this was the right move,” Williams said. “It was like all the doors were opening. It was just like every little thing that needed to happen just happened and sort of opened up for me.”
Williams’ background differs from that of University Chaplain Jeremiah Gibbs, who has a background in both the Assemblies of God and United Methodist churches.
Williams’ background in the AME Zion Church is appealing to sophomore religion major and Chapel Student Director of Music Nate Raab.
“I think just the fact that she’s from a different faith tradition than the other leaders in the EIP office is a really valuable thing,” Raab said. “Her background is so different from anything we’ve had in the EIP office for a long time. So she’s going to be able to connect with a group of students that just haven’t felt as represented. She’s already started doing that.”
Sophomore English education major Bekah Edmonds also believes that Williams’ different background will positively impact students.
“[She] will bring different kinds of religions together, which is really cool,” Edmonds said. “There will be a lot of fellowship that goes on, which’ll be great.”
Williams said her job focuses on interfaith programming and working with the chapel steward of interfaith, pastoral care and counseling, overseeing the chapel stewards and preaching in chapel worship once a month. She also would like to add gospel music to the Thursday night chapel program and lead a service trip this spring.
“I feel so blessed to be here. It’s been a very warm community, very supportive in a number of ways,” Williams said. “I’m just ecstatic to get up every day and do work that is meaningful to me, that I feel called to do, work that I feel is deeply rooted in my divine purpose. So for that, I am just overwhelmed with gratitude.”
Williams already has made an impact on the students involved in the chapel ministry. Edmonds likes Williams’ preaching style and the energy she brings to the EIP office.
“She’s very sweet, [and] she’s got a great sense of humor,” Edmonds said. “It doesn’t even feel like she’s a chaplain, because she’s so personable.”
Raab believes that students will learn a lot from Williams, especially since she is the first female chaplain UIndy has had in several years.
“It’s a little bit weird that we haven’t had a female chaplain,” Raab said. “It’s one of the more identifiable characteristics of the UMC that students haven’t had the opportunity to witness. I think it’ll be a learning experience for a lot of students in a really good way.”
Williams hopes to provide students with learning experiences and support for as long as she works in the EIP office and with the chapel ministry.
“I really love to meet people and see how I can be supportive,” she said. “The biggest thing is that my door is open. If there’s any students or student organizations that feel like I could be somehow supportive to them, just shoot me an email [or] stop by the office. I just want to be as helpful and make as meaningful of a contribution to this campus as I can. My door is wide open, and my heart is wide open.”