Chaplain Lands Dream Job


Chaplain Rutherford about to start his Monday service.

Brynne Mittleider, Staff Reporter

The 2022-2023 school year welcomes a new chaplain to Holy Trinity. Spend a few minutes talking to Chaplain Rutherford, and you may be surprised by the makings of his character—his hieratic lineage, his short time as a science teacher, his fascination with bow ties.

But perhaps the most genuine thing you will gather is Chaplain’s enthusiasm for our school and incredulity that he has become its chaplain. His journey to our campus has been years in the making.

A sixth-generation priest, Chaplain Rutherford has dreamed of doing what he calls “ordained youth ministry” since college. Yet, Holy Trinity has been his first opportunity to do so.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Chaplain Rutherford spent over a decade as a youth pastor. At the time, “I thought I would be a youth pastor for the rest of my life,” he said.

Then, he transitioned to being a chaplain at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Academy. However, because he wasn’t an ordained minister, he soon found that his abilities were limited.

“I wasn’t able to do communion at Eucharist,” he recalled in an interview. “Also, there were some kids that wanted to get baptized, and I couldn’t do that.” Until that time, Chaplain Rutherford believed he had “outgrown” his dream of being a priest, but these setbacks spurred him into action.

He decided to go to seminary to receive the education needed to become a priest. But again, his dream was put on pause. “I was told I needed to spend another year thinking about discernment,” he remembered, “deciding if I was going to be a priest or not.”

Chaplain Rutherford realized he was facing a year of contemplation but still needed a job in the meantime. He decided this opportunity could allow two of his interests to intertwine: teaching youth and science.

Chaplain said his interest in science was born as he developed his relationship with Christianity. “When I was a young Christian, science scared me because I thought it was trying to prove that God didn’t exist,” he said.

But as he learned more about the relationship between gospel and the natural world, he found science “fascinating. …It’s something God gave us to get to know how things work. And so, it just makes it more interesting.”

So, while taking time off to consider priesthood, Chaplain Rutherford found himself considering teaching the subject. For one, the change was likely to align with his family’s needs: “my wife’s a teacher,” he said, “so I thought, what if we both are teachers, then we’ll have the same vacations and the same time off, and it’ll be awesome.”

Chaplain decided to take the leap and became a middle school science teacher. But the venture was not meant to be. “It was terrible,” he said. The circumstances weren’t the problem: “the children that I worked with were amazing. The staff that I worked with—wonderful,” he clarified. Chaplain said teaching science was just not an enjoyable practice for him.

The experience was not without its silver lining. Chaplain Rutherford realized that priesthood was still his dream and went to seminary. Then, he found a job that “sounded too good to be true”—the chance to be HT’s new chaplain. “For the last year,” he said, “I’ve had a hard time believing that I was actually going to get to come do this… and I’m still blown away.”

Chaplain Rutherford believes his past experiences have helped him prepare for this new role.

At one point in his theological career, he interned as a hospital chaplain with the Seventh-Day Adventist healthcare organization, AdventHealth. “Chaplaining here at this school,” he said, “is so different than chaplaining at a hospital.”

For one thing, the audience is different. Here, he works with young students with often too much energy. There, “you’re dealing with people who are hurt,” he said. His ability to build relationships is hindered.

Working at a school also means he can learn about students’ dreams and watch as they grow over the years, while chaplaining in a hospital instead has a fixed timeline. The people he helps “either get better and go home, or something else happens.”

While the hospital experience helped him evolve as a minister, Chaplain Rutherford vastly prefers youth ministry. “I love watching dreams grow as opposed to watching dreams die,” he said.

Becoming HT’s chaplain is fulfillment of a dream of his own. And now that he’s here, he can define the new direction of our school’s chapel leadership.

Many students have had the chance to experience multiple of our school’s past chaplains. Chaplain Rutherford doesn’t want to deviate far from the standards they’ve set, but he does have one motivation: “I’m hoping to be here long enough that someone doesn’t remember another chaplain,” he said.

One idiosyncrasy he has adopted is the ever-changing bow tie many have noticed him sporting around school. The staple article of clothing was inspired by his best friend; before working with him, “I had never tied a bow tie before in my life,” Chaplain Rutherford said. In fact, “the idea seemed scary,” he said.

But the key to learning the tie is also the key to trying many new things: practice. His friend told him that “the way you learn how to tie a bow tie is to tie one every day for a month. And then you’ll know,” he said.

Bow ties hold a special place in his heart beyond just the lesson from his friend. “The first bow tie I ever got was from someone whose brother committed suicide,” Chaplain Rutherford said. “I have a brother and so it hurts my heart to think that someone lost theirs.” When he wears a bow tie, he feels like it is preserving the brother’s memory.

When I met with Chaplain Rutherford to research this feature, he remarked to me that he felt like Ted Lasso being interviewed by Trent Crimm (The Independent)—characters from the recent hit tv show, Ted Lasso.

Many would agree that our school’s ministers of years prior (I have Chaplain Jared and Chaplain Porter in mind) can be likened to the show’s main character and namesake. A compassionate father, Ted Lasso is devoted to believing even when his faith is most doubted.

Like those who preached before him, our chapel’s new leadership channels a similar enthusiasm for his work. Though the son of a priest, Chaplain was never forced into serving the Church. “My dad was a youth pastor and is a priest,” he said, “but never pushed me to be either one. It was always that I wanted to be like him.”

Now a father of two sons, Chaplain Rutherford wants to take the same approach. “I want them to do great things,” he said. “But I don’t want to make them do any of those things.” He also believes a similar mindset is important as a chaplain.

As a father, “my dad made it look easy, even though it’s not,” he said. Chaplain Rutherford hopes students have the same impression of him at school. “I want to be like that for other people where it looks easy to be a chaplain,” he said, though “I promise it’s not.”

While he doesn’t have a Believe poster taped above his door, Chaplain Rutherford does believe that he can guide his students to feel the same love for their work and for God that he does. In his time here, he said, “I’d love for everyone to learn to have a relationship with Jesus that makes it so that you are assured that you’re loved.”

He continued, “Outside of that, I would love for the students to learn to pursue a career that makes every day feel like you’re on vacation… That work is not work: it’s what you want to do anyways.”

His favorite moment so far as chaplain ironically happened outside of school. He was at Publix, saw someone in a Holy Trinity volleyball jersey, and struck up a conversation. She recognized him. “For a year, I’ve been dreaming about this job,” he said. Talking with her showed him that “it’s finally real.”

What Chaplain Rutherford appreciates most about his new position is the “community” he is now a part of in and out of school. For many students, entering a new school year can be difficult and sometimes ostracizing. Outside of school, many likely feel the political and cultural divisiveness prevalent on our media platforms.

Now more than ever, it can be difficult to remember how many of us are experiencing these same struggles. But as a fictional, mustachioed, non-American football coach once said, “There is something worse out there than being sad, and that is being alone and being sad.”

So next time you’re in Publix, tired from a sports game, and you see a bearded man in a bow tie down the aisle, don’t be afraid reach out. We are a community, after all.