Burt Burleson’s spiritual impact exceeds his title’s initial responsibilities

Photo courtesy of Burt Burleson

By Caroline Yablon | Reporter

Though to some Dr. Burt Burleson is the face of Chapel, his responsibilities off the stage and behind the scenes is much more than what students see twice a week at chapel.

As both university chaplain and dean of Spiritual Life, Burleson helps to organize around 800 prayer services and 168 chapel services every year on Baylor’s campus, which adds up to roughly 32,400 hours each school year of spiritual life for students, alumni and faculty.

Burleson has served in his position for 11 years, and he is only the second chaplain in Baylor history to serve a term this long.

Burleson has been involved in many aspects of ministry throughout his career and said his previous experiences prepared him for his role now as university chaplain and dean of Spiritual Life.

“It was a ministry I believe I was being prepared for over three decades, having served as a student minister, a counselor and a pastor,” Burleson said in a letter on the Baylor Spiritual Life website.

Prior to taking his current position in 2007, he was the pastor of Dayspring Baptist Church in Waco for 13 years. Though pastoral work and chaplaincy both involve ministry, he said he was slightly surprised by the extent of administrative duties his role as university chaplain involves.

“When most of us go into ministry, we’re going into ministry because we love preaching or we love teaching the Bible,” Burleson said. “For me it is soul work — sitting and talking to people about what’s going on in their life. We don’t go into ministry typically to deal with contracts and those sort of things. So it wasn’t necessarily a total surprise, but I couldn’t have imagined all the administrative work that would be included in the chaplain’s role.”

Burleson’s role involves ministering to students and Baylor faculty on multiple fronts.

“In a way, half of my job is that classic chaplaincy: pastoral care, counseling, showing up and guiding people through crisis, letting a university know when we are dealing with a crisis, promoting the care of the community, in addition to offering care,” Burleson said.

Additionally, Burleson helps lead prayer services for students and faculty and staff, chapel alternatives and weekly prayer opportunities.

New Braunfels junior Kaitlyn Anderson said Burleson has been a strong helping force in her activism for international religious freedom.

“Dr. Burleson has encouraged the ministry of what I am passionate about,” Anderson said. “ I am very passionate about international religious freedom, and he has been a huge help for me to live out my passion for justice on Baylor’s campus.”

The other half of Burleson’s job is helping oversee Spiritual Life for Baylor students. Some of his responsibilities are associated with the Bobo Spiritual Life Center.

As part of The Bobo Spiritual Life Center, Burleson said he helps manage the resident chaplains that are in every residence hall, local ministries in Waco that students serve at on teams and the 45 mission trips that students go on each year.

Another area of Spiritual Life that Burleson helps administrate is Spirituality and Public Life.

“Spirituality and Public Life is a group of programs, ministries, and events that focus on various intersections between spiritual values and our shared life together in the world,” Burleson said.

Burleson said the THIS Matters program is a forum that allows students to talk about life’s socially pressing issues that have resulted through a challenging event or life problem. The Public Deliberation Initiative is a program that strives to teach students how to talk about controversial subjects in a peaceful manner; and they also focus on cross cultural experiences during “neighbor nights,” where students of all backgrounds share life stories through a meal together.

Better Together is also a program that invites people of all religions to come and listen to other people’s stories and to learn about one another over a meal. Not only are students getting to know one another through Better Together, but they are also given the opportunity to take a leadership and inner-faith work class for credit.

“They can learn about what’s involved as a leader in the world, what do you have to develop inwardly to be able to talk to somebody who is coming from a different worldview and a different faith, and doing this in a way that is Christ-like while maintaining your own convictions, but also loving somebody,” Burleson said.

Burleson said these programs are run by Dr. Josh Ritter with passion and creativity and align well Baylor’s mission as it relates to equipping leaders to impact the world as a whole.

A few of the responsibilities outside of the Bobo consist of Burleson connecting with pastors and college pastors around Waco in any way he can. He also helps with over 25 student religious organizations on campus including Young Life, Vertical and Lutherans Doing Life Together.

Of course, Burleson does not do this work alone. Particularly with the help of associate chaplains Dr. Ryan and Kristen Richardson and assistant dean of Spiritual Life Rebecca Kennedy, Burleson is able to provide spiritual services to the community.

Over the years of Burleson leading students and faculty and staff in faith, he said he has been challenged daily to remind himself to rely on who God is and what He does for us.

“The stress and challenges of this role have held a mirror up to me, letting me see my limitations and causing me to say to myself, ‘You really do need to rely on God, and you do need to remember that you’re a sinner that needs forgiveness every day,’” Burleson said. “In a way, it sounds very basic, but when you are turning 60, it’s much more real to you.”

Tulsa senior Evangelina Wiens said Burleson has impacted her through his intentionality and goofiness.

“He is sincere, engaging and shows interest in people’s lives,” Wiens said. “You can tell he cares a lot about Baylor students.”

Wiens also said that when he first met her, he thought her name sounded like ‘evangelism’ and proceeded to call her ‘good news.’

“It’s a very Burt [Burleson] thing to say,” Wiens said.