Chaplain Richard McBride honored at Service of Celebration

Elon Chaplain Richard McBride, who is retiring this spring after 25 years of service, was honored at a special Service of Celebration on April 19. At the service, President Leo M. Lambert conferred the title of Chaplain Emeritus on McBride, thanking him for his legacy of spiritual leadership.

Lambert said McBride and his wife, Wendy, will always remain members of the Elon community. “The full embrace of this community will always surround you,” Lambert said.

Alumnus John Barnhill ’92 recounted McBride’s strong ties to generations of students, helping them make the transition from their teen years to adulthood. “Thank you for transforming my life,” Barnhill said.

President Emeritus Fred Young detailed McBride’s many gifts, saying he was the right person at the right time to provide Elon’s religious guidance. “He grew the community, and the community grew him,” Young said.

Young said McBride’s legacy lives on in the lives of the alumni who have known him. “He was able to establish and to proclaim our highest beliefs and values … to call forth our better nature,” Young said.

One of McBride’s close friends on the Elon staff, Carolyn Nelson, said he has been “the conscience of the university, speaker of truth and seeker of justice.” She recalled his efforts on behalf of social justice and speaking against the violence of warfare, for example tying ribbons on strings across Young Commons to honor those killed in the Iraq war. She also noted the eloquent prayers that McBride has contributed over the years at important campus occasions. Nelson said McBride’s remarks have been part prayer and part poetry.

Smith Jackson, vice president for student life, presented McBride with a crystal Phoenix as a token of the university’s appreciation for his service.

McBride will be this year’s Commencement speaker on May 23.

Chaplain McBride has left an indelible mark on the university community. In addition to guiding the university’s Office of Religious Life through its rapid growth in the past two decades, McBride has promoted service to the local and global community among Elon’s students, faculty and staff.

He founded Elon’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity in 1988 and also helped start the Elon Volunteers (EV!) program, which now is administered by the university’s Kernodle Center for Service Learning. He also started a Winter Term service-learning course in Guatemala which allows students to participate in various Habitat for Humanity projects throughout the country.

During his tenure, McBride has also launched several programs that have become hallmarks of Elon’s campus life. Among these programs are the Senior Showcase (now known as Leaders of the Twenty-First Century), which highlights the achievements of graduating seniors; Hometown Heroes, through which freshmen honor individuals who made a difference in their lives or their hometowns; the Turning 21 Dinner, which encourages students to mark their 21st birthdays by honoring their mentors; the Life Stories course he teaches for graduating seniors who are encouraged to develop a narrative of their experiences and life goals; and the annual Elon Holiday Lighting Ceremony.

McBride has also been a central figure in the joys and sorrows of the campus community. In 2001, he organized a campus gathering to help the community come to grips with the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and in 2007 he coordinated the campus service in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. He has presided over alumni weddings as well as funerals, memorial services and gatherings of friends for students, alumni, faculty or staff members who have died. He also regularly provides stirring remarks and prayers at campus gatherings, such as Commencement, convocations, faculty meetings and facility dedications, and provides support and partnership to those who want to speak out on issues related to social justice and warfare.

In addition to his more public duties, he has served as a trusted counselor and friend to countless numbers of students throughout the years.

In 2004, McBride published a book, Inventing a Life: The Journey Through College and Beyond, based on his interactions and interviews with Elon students. Also in 2004, McBride received Elon’s Periclean Award, which is presented each year to an Elon faculty or staff member whose work creates a learning environment that promotes social responsibility and civic concern among students.