Embracing the Journey of Life

Five questions with the Rev. Charles Wynder, Jr.


Before St. Paul’s, the Rev. Charles Wynder, Jr., dean of chapel and spiritual life, served on the Presiding Bishop’s Staff of the Episcopal Church and as Priest-in-Charge of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church St. Andrew’s Parish in Washington, D.C. A Truman Scholar and four-year member of the Army ROTC at Syracuse University, he went on to earn a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and served for six years as an attorney in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG). His decades of public and spiritual service and teaching brought him to SPS in fall 2020. He holds the Charles Dickey Faculty Chair for Religion and Ethics.

Q1: What makes you smile when you get up in the morning?
My son, Chase, and my wife, Bethany [Dickerson Wynder, SPS director of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives]. And then, the opportunity I have to engage with this place, in this role, in a way that allows me to have impact on the lives of students and fellow faculty members while being part of a community where my son can flourish and where my wife is equally valued. I am grateful for the chance to be connected here, and for Chase to be surrounded by a community of children his own age and older who help him to make meaning of his own living.

Q2: What most excites you about this school year?
The chance to live into the School’s rearticulated mission and find ways in which the Office of the Chaplaincy, and Chapel, can advance the mission and embody the underlying values through invitation and engagement of the students and the faculty. Holding space for students, staff, and faculty to grapple with the large spiritual questions — Who am I? Why am I here? How am I called to live in relationship with others? What is the meaning of the life that I am living? — and doing that in a way in which we foster an environment of welcome and inclusion for people of all faiths, and no faith, while being grounded in our Episcopal tradition. These are the things that excite me.

Q3: St. Paul’s strives toward becoming Beloved Community — a place where the diversity of perspectives is honored, affirmed, and included. How do you hope to support that aim in your own work?
Becoming Beloved Community is just that: not a building process, but a process of becoming. I hope to support the School’s work in this area by helping us grapple with issues and history, and to envision a future where we collectively ask not only the questions of who am I and why am I here, but also who is my neighbor, how am I called to love my neighbor, and how am I related to my neighbor? Becoming Beloved Community means welcoming this ongoing work in a nonabstract and embodied way. We will continue to promote understanding and healing across differences of race, class, sexual orientation, and gender expression.

One of the ways I see us doing that is by providing emphasis on our interfaith work and the promotion of religious pluralism. The Chaplaincy’s move to Sheldon this fall, where we have dedicated space for the South Asian Society and Hindu Society, the Muslim Society, and Hillel, along with space for the Meditation and Mindfulness Society, and community building, and convening, and worship, and prayer for those groups and others — that is significant for us as an Episcopal school in promoting friend-ship and inclusion among our students and our faculty. And then, too, continuing a focus on justice, reconciliation, and healing through Chapel talks and programs, and promoting a cathedral model of Chapel: a house of worship for all people where we embody invitation, welcome, and engagement.

Q4: Who do you most admire?
My father, Charles Wynder, Sr. He served for 30 years in the Army — 16 years of active duty and 14 years of reserve duty — and retired as a colonel. He was also an educator — a teacher, a coach, and an administrator in public schools in Hampton, Virginia. He’s walked with me through my life as an example for me, a companion to me, a friend, and a coach helping me to grow into the ongoing vocation of being first a human being, and then a father, husband, priest, and now chaplain at this School. He always provides me with frameworks to make meaning of where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.

Q5: What’s the best advice you’ve received?
The best piece of advice I’ve received is from my father, and it’s one that I’ve referenced in Chapel: Remember to embrace the journey of life. It reminds me of the quote that I grew up with, and that applies even now: “What you will be you are now becoming.” It’s about recognizing that you’re constantly becoming — to work and learn, to love and find joy.