On the Way Out, Chaplain Waybright Debriefs his Tenure

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On the Way Out, Chaplain Waybright Debriefs his Tenure

“Chappy G.” flags student prayer movement and quality staff as encouraging signs.

By Noah Cassetto | Staff Writer
May 3, 2022
Chaplain Waybright prays over the students as Associate Chaplain and Professor of Worship Arts Dante Ford looks on. Photo by Claire Feeney.

This May, Greg Waybright ‘75, completes his two-year tenure as Wheaton’s interim chaplain, a role for which he was hired after the previous chaplain was terminated following a Title IX allegation and investigation. Waybright, who was president of Trinity International University from 1995-2007 and served on Wheaton College’s Board of Trustees from 2010-2020, has pastored churches in Wisconsin, Illinois, and California, most recently Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena. Waybright and his wife, Chris, have two children and three grandchildren.

 

The Record sat down with Waybright, who is known on campus as Chappy G., to discuss his time at Wheaton, his advice for the next chaplain, and his future plans. This interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

 

How did you come to be Wheaton’s interim chaplain?

 

Around March 2020, I brought President Ryken into a prayer covenant with me because I was wondering what my next steps should be as my time with Lake Avenue Church was winding down. There were a couple of other schools that had asked me to do some things, but they didn’t seem right to me. 

 

When some of the difficulties arose in the Chaplain’s Office, President Ryken began praying about what steps to take. He knew that I was in a transition period and called my wife and me on the day that we closed on our house in Colorado Springs. He essentially said, “I know that there are other positions you talked to me about, but you can’t do those. I think the Lord would have you come serve Wheaton.”

 

With my love of higher education and my love of pastoring, I thought that being a chaplain at a place like Wheaton might be a great joy for me. And it has been. It came about unexpectedly — no one wants to have a problem in the Chaplain’s Office — but we said yes when Ryken asked if I would serve the school.

You mentioned you love higher education, serving students and serving the Lord. How did the chaplain position bring those together for you? 

 

I think of the work of chaplaincy in the same way I thought about being a pastor, particularly the pastor of the large church I was serving. My church [Lake Avenue] was a church of about 5,000 in southern California, and there were a lot of different elements to it that required some administrative responsibilities. But it also had the primary responsibilities of teaching the word and shepherding the flock. A chaplain’s position has all those same elements, plus a very enjoyable constituency: students and faculty at the college. I’ve always loved this campus.

 

You came to the Chaplain’s Office at a tough time. How have you seen the Lord redeem the Chaplain’s Office while you’ve been here?

 

I remember being asked in my first interview with The Record, “How will the campus ever trust the Chaplain’s Office again?” I believe I said that I’ll seek to respect the people God brings into my path, listen to the criticisms and complaints without just writing people off or overreacting, and seeking to be faithful to love people. That’s what we’ve tried to do – both our staff in the Chaplain’s Office and the student chaplains.

 

I think I’ve been well-received in the sense that people trusted me enough to tell me what was upsetting. We worked to see if we could respond to those challenges and come to a closer mutual understanding of where we had to go. I’m so grateful for that. Our students, staff and faculty were willing to give me a chance to step into their lives and try to be their chaplain. That surprised me. I felt welcomed the moment I stepped on campus in spite of such difficult circumstances.

 

It’s a basic principle of life that if you look hard enough to find blame, you can find it because we’re all fallen creatures. A close friend once told me, “Why are you surprised at brokenness? That’s the way we are. Let’s stop and ask what God would have us do.” And those words, as simple as they are, have helped me when people come and say, “This happened.” I ask them, “Why are we surprised?” Simply because a person is in a place of leadership or has come to a Christian school, we think they’re going to be perfect? We’re all in process. We shouldn’t be surprised when imperfection explodes out into the open. But we can’t stay where we are. We have to say, “Lord, what would you have us do?”

 

You were an undergrad student here in the early 70s. What has it been like coming back to Wheaton as a staff member?

 

Wheaton was a life-changing place for me. I’d grown up in a very legalistic setting with a lot of rules. It felt like being in a straightjacket. When I came to Wheaton, for the first time in my life, I felt like I had come to a community where the essential matters of the gospel were held onto. When I came here, it was like I was breathing fresh air, able to probe hard questions from the position of authority and truthfulness in Scripture. That’s what made my faith come alive during my time at Wheaton. 

 

Coming back again as a trustee made me want to continue to have the gospel at the heartbeat of the kind of school we want to be. We want to be as strong a school academically and educationally as possible, a courageous enough place to engage in the issues that are happening in society. As a chaplain with that same perspective, I prayed that I could be involved in fulfilling the calling that the Chaplain’s Office has, which is to step out and meet the spiritual needs of the people of our campus, students first but also faculty. I love coming back to that and I think that’s still what we want it to be.

 

As you leave the chaplain position, what are you most encouraged by when you look around at students and staff?

 

Well, I hate to walk away, but I do feel good about a lot of things. The prayer movement that has happened here has been all student-initiated, student-led. That is exciting for me. I see a growing spiritual passion among our students. It’s clear that there’s a longing for fresh encounters with God in so many of our students.

 

I’m also impressed with the faculty and staff’s commitment to strong academics and to the lives of our students. I’ve been blown away by the quality of our staff, including our Residence Life staff and our athletic coaches. They amaze me in their commitment to discipleship. I’m a little bit of a cheerleader.

 

How do you feel about the nickname “Chappy G.”?

 

When I’ve had a few of my former students and mentees come to Wheaton, they’ve not been sure whether calling me Chappy G. is a good thing. They tell me they can’t call me Chappy G., they can’t even call me Greg — they call me president or pastor. But when President Ryken introduced me at one chapel as Chappy G., I embraced it. I think it’s torn down the walls – the distance – that make it less possible to be perceived as a human being when you’re a chaplain. So, now, I think being called Chappy G. is one of the healthiest things that could’ve happened.

 

What, if anything, is your advice to Wheaton’s next chaplain?

 

I have several pages of things the next chaplain will want to see, but the first thing I would say is this: make your first priority the spiritual lives of the students. You have to enter into relationships. You have to enter into spaces with students. You have to be there to hear where the students are.

 

Do you have a plan for what you’re doing next?

 

Not yet. There are other schools and a couple churches that are asking me to play some roles. Ken Medema [a blind singer and keyboardist with long ties to Wheaton], who I’ve known for about 50 years, has talked with me about being involved with him in a ministry for retreats and mentoring people who are in ministry. I’m really open to this, whether it would be with Ken or in some other area. But nothing yet seems like an “Aha! This is what God would have me do.” I do know that I have to do whatever’s next with my wife Chris. I’ve been commuting between Colorado Springs and Wheaton and am looking forward to creating a new community with her.

 

I want people to know, I’ve loved being Wheaton’s chaplain and I’m already mourning the loss of conversations like this. I have really been thankful for every role God has given me the chance to play. This one has brought the greatest joy. The chaplaincy has been a gift for me these last two years.

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