Baylor Magazine Article

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A New Chapter for Chaplain Dan Scott
Barbara Kennedy

In his final chapel talk delivered to the student body on May 3, Rev. Dan Scott told students his parting gift would be his hope that they would find it in their minds and hearts to discover a God “who has their back,” who will see them through all of the difficult times in life and help them thrive.

“I look back on my life now, and sometimes I have wondered, sometimes I have doubted, but I look back on my life and I see times that God had my back when I didn’t even know it and helped me get back up and live again.”

Scott first spoke in Baylor’s chapel in 1982 when he was a young minister at First Baptist Church in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., a congregation he served for 27 years. In 2003, while serving as the minister/spiritual counselor at the Cumberland Hall Psychiatric Hospital in Chattanooga, Jim Buckheit, Baylor’s seventh headmaster, hired him as the interim chaplain to replace Rev. Ed Snow. Scott was named chaplain in 2004.

I like to take a lighter touch with things, and I have found it to be helpful with students and with faculty. I have found that in high stress jobs humor is critical for mental health as well as spiritual health.

He soon began to recognize the differences and commonalities in serving as a minister at a church and working as a school chaplain. “In both, you have people in crisis and grief as well as enormous joy. One difference is, in a church you have the same people in your congregation for a long time. At a school, students are growing, maturing, and moving on.”

Growing up in Burleson, Texas, southwest of Dallas, Scott said he was always drawn to the storytellers in his family, which is reflected in the narrative style of his prayers. “Public prayers are different than private prayers. I like to give time for the thought process to flower and to mature and then I work on the language. I don’t like generic prayers prayed by clergy. I find them to be ‘unheard,’ ” he said, adding that his ultimate hope for the prayer is for it to motivate people to stop and think. “If it does that, I think it has achieved its purpose.”

Humor is another trait he picked up in his Texas youth that has carried him through his work. “I like to take a lighter touch with things, and I have found it to be helpful with students and with faculty,” he said. “I have found that in high stress jobs humor is critical for mental health as well as spiritual health.”

In his final year as chaplain, Scott’s job of finding chapel speakers whose message will resonate with students each Monday has been tested because their delivery has been almost entirely through Zoom. “This is the first year we have not had the cohesion that comes with having 850 (Upper School) people in chapel. Having that dynamic of us all being together really makes this enormous difference. The good news is that we have remained in school and marched forward.”

In addition to his duties as chaplain, Scott has taught ethics and western religion, mostly to juniors and seniors. “It’s been enormously fun to teach seniors. They are at a stage of life where, once you get beyond the trivialities, they are thinking about important life issues, and they are listening to each other. He recalls a student commenting that he and his classmates were never quite sure what Scott was thinking about various topics they were discussing in class. “My rule of thumb was to ask good questions and to stimulate thought and conversation. Teaching is not the same as preaching.”

When I introduced myself as the chaplain at Baylor, she told me that I had the best job in Chattanooga, and I thought, I just may.

A role that he came to enjoy is his ministry to the football team. “I really enjoyed speaking to the football team in the film room before each game. I talk to Coach (Phil) Massey at least once or twice a week about the needs of the team, what was going on, what the dynamic was for the upcoming game,” explained Scott. “My questions for Phil were always, ‘what are you working on, what are you
emphasizing, and what is the challenge?’ I came to enjoy that.”

In the summer Scott said he would read books about coaching dynamics, sports psychology, and leadership, “and then I got to figure out how to talk to a bunch of guys about football,” he laughed. “In recent years, I’ve tried to go to all the games, including away games, so I could keep up. I’ve been kind of invested in that, but it also gave me great joy.”

Scott is grateful for the support of the headmasters who have led the school during his tenure. “You cannot be the chaplain without the support of leadership, and I cannot say enough about the headmasters that I have worked with. Scott Wilson ’75 has not only been a friend but also an enormous encourager, and Bill Stacy helped reassure people that we were a dynamic faith community. I will never
forget Jim Buckheit’s welcome to me, how he encouraged respect for me and offered me respect personally.”

He pauses briefly before launching into another story recalling a woman he met while visiting the local Mitzpah Congregation synagogue. “When I introduced myself as the chaplain at Baylor, she told me that I had the best job in Chattanooga, and I thought, I just may.”

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