Wells Reflects on the Role of Faith at a University in ‘Exit Interview’

Duke Chapel's dean says he has been 'stretched' and 'humbled' while in Durham

In reflecting Tuesday evening on his seven years as dean of Duke Chapel, Sam Wells said his own faith was strengthened during his tenure and he hoped he pushed the chapel to engage more fully with the rest of campus and surrounding community.  "I'm the kind of person who discovers my faith through articulating it," Wells said during a 90-minute "Exit Interview" conversation with WUNC Radio's Frank Stasio. "So I've been deepened in faith.

Watch the entire interview.

"I have particularly, I think, grown in confidence about the trustworthiness of the Christian gospel in the face of the intellectual and moral and social challenges of our day," he said to an audience of about 150 in the chapel's main sanctuary and those who watched the live webcast of the event.Wells has been appointed vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, a parish with a reputation for ministering to people without homes. He and his family leave for England this summer. He preaches his final sermon as dean on Sunday, May 6.

In response to a question about the chapel's purpose in a pluralistic campus community, Wells said, "I think the key word for me is blessing.

"My aim when I came here is that for the chapel in general, and me more narrowly, to be seen as a blessing to the whole campus."

During Wells' time as dean, the chapel expanded its PathWays ministry to students, established a communal living home in the West End neighborhood and created the student-run Religio magazine on Christian faith. Wells helped appoint Hindu and Muslim chaplains, both firsts for the university. He inaugurated the Dean's Dialogue series to hold public conversations on questions of common purpose with faculty, administrators and community leaders. His sermons have touched people from those sitting in the chapel pews to others listening online from New York to New Zealand.

At the opening of the event, Beth Gettys Sturkey, the chapel's director of development, announced the Wells Endowment for Student Ministry, which has a goal of raising $1 million for engaging students in study, reflection and service.

As head of the chapel, Wells said he aimed to be "constantly on the case of the university." In that vein, he said about the Duke culture, "This is a very frenetic community."

"We're almost like addicted to experience," he said. "We haven't been quite as good at helping students reflect on experiences they've had. We just encourage them to accumulate more and more and more."

Asked what he has learned at Duke, Wells said, "Ambition ... I've never been part of a university that has the dynamism of this one."

Stasio, host of the midday "State of Things" show, called the occasion "bittersweet," and expressed his admiration for Wells' contributions to the Durham community.

In summarizing his time at Duke, Wells said, "I've been stretched; I've been humbled; and I've been met."