In its 80-year history, Hendricks Chapel has never had a female dean. Until now.
Rev. Tiffany Steinwert was appointed in March, making her the sixth Hendricks dean in Syracuse University's history.
Steinwert’s path to Hendricks Chapel began when she was five years old. Picking up food stamps with her grandmother made her feel how unfair it was that everyone couldn’t just open the pantry and find food like she could. After that, she went door to door with her little red wagon collecting food to donate. The inevitable problem she discovered was that she and her wagon were not going to solve world hunger. And at five years old, she was burnt out.
Still, her passion for social justice continued. She joined all sorts of civic organizations throughout her years in school, but she said it always led to feeling burnt out. Now Steinwert said she’s discovered the answer. She said this position as dean of the university’s chapel allows her to pull together other people with their own wagons to attain change.
She never imagined she would become dean of a chapel at a major university, she said. Actually, Steinwert said she never imagined she would even become a pastor. She grew up in a theologically divided household with a Protestant mother and a Catholic father. Steinwert said, with a smile, “That means we didn’t go to church.” In high school she participated in a United Methodist youth group, she admits, for the mission trips and other fun perks, but not for religion.
It was in college that she began to attend church regularly. She then realized that she had an ally in Jesus to fight the social justice initiative she committed herself to. At one point, she considered leaving the church because friends told her Christians don’t do justice, only charity. She met with her pastor and told him she respected and appreciated what the church does, but she can no longer be a part of it because of her commitment to social justice. He responded that social justice work was a vital part of the United Methodist Church. Through this newfound religion, Steinwert said she found the missing piece to keep from getting burnt out – it was hope. She said that by connecting with the larger community, she gained hope in her work.
Eventually this path led her to seminary and working as a pastor in local churches. She was shocked that something came alive in her through the sacraments and religion, she said. As surprised as she was, she said being a pastor weds her passion for social justice with her need to be part of a larger community.
She was looking for teaching positions when fate called, she said. A colleague called to inform her about the deanship opening at Hendricks. Steinwert said she wasn’t looking for an administration position. The search committee contacted her and the more she learned about Hendricks, the more she realized the position was a job she never dreamed would be possible. The motto of Hendricks Chapel is that it’s a place for all people – of all faith traditions and non-faith traditions. Steinwert said she found the perfect place: an interfaith chapel dedicated to social justice. As dean, Steinwert said her different identities as scholar, pastor, and community-organizer come together as one.
She has been settling into her new home at Hendricks since March and devotes her time to learning about the campus and community. The rest of her story is yet to unfold.
Steinwert has a lot to juggle. She is the new dean at a major university chapel. She has committees to serve on, meetings to attend, students to see and public speaking events. And she's a partner and a mother. Steinwert talks about how she handles these different identities.
Steinwert said one of the reasons she came to Hendricks Chapel is because it is an interfaith chapel dedicated to social justice. But what does it mean to be part of an interfaith chapel?
Many children dream of being doctors, athletes, rock stars, firefighters and other heroic figures. Tiffany Steinwert wanted to make a difference too. At five years old she began fighting world hunger.