|Rev. Joan Cooper
Burnett leads Sunday worship services that include music, dance and other
artistic talents of Wesleyan students. She encourages students of any faith
to attend the 2 p.m. services.
Protestant Chaplain Supports Students With Christian-Based Spiritual Guidance
|Q: Q: Rev.
Burnett, what attracted you to Wesleyan, and when did you begin working on
A: My term at Wesleyan began the week of new student orientation, and
I’m so excited to be here! The motivating factor for my accepting the
position as Chaplain was the desperate quest for some Christian students to
practice Christianity at Wesleyan without trepidation. During my employment
interview I was asked, “Rev. Burnett, what will you do on a campus where a
student is on his way to church, runs into a colleague and when asked where
he was going he responded, to a friend’s house?” Days following the
interview I pondered the question in my heart, prayed and was determined
that Wesleyan was a place I desired to be, even for one student. It is
important whatever one’s faith tradition; you should be able to openly
worship your God without intimidation.
Q: What denominations do you attract?
A: It is my belief that Jesus is not of any denomination,
denominations are man-made. Jesus said, “Whosoever will come.” That is my
philosophy about Christianity, that whosoever believes in Christ and accepts
Him as the Son of God is part of the Christian community.
Q: What is your interaction with the students?
A: Students interact with me as pastor, someone that holds their
beliefs, has their best interest at heart and respects them as individuals
of faith seeking spiritual formation. There are a few Christian groups on
campus and I lend my support as someone available to advise them as needed.
Also, this is a decisive and critical period in students’ lives and I’m able
to bring support through individual counseling and pastoral care to anyone
seeking assistance, churched or unchurched—Christian or non-Christian. On
Sundays, in Memorial Chapel at 2 p.m. there is an All-Campus Christian
worship service open to all.
Q: When are your services and what goes on during a service?
A: The All-Campus Christian Worship services are held most Sundays in
the Chapel. There are two Sundays this academic year we will have services
in other locations, this Sunday, Nov. 11 and Sunday, Feb. 17. Worship is a
time to reverence God, give thanks, leave debilitating issues and concerns
at the altar, and to edify each other. The student worship leaders organize
teams of singers and musicians, dancers, and theatrical performers to edify
their colleagues and to bring glory to God through the use of their artistic
gifts and talents. If you were to attend a worship service (and you should)
you will experience students demonstrating their love of God through song,
dance, music, and acts of love and kindness towards one another. And, we are
just getting started!
Q: What are messages you share with students who question their
A: There is no set message, I seek to understand. And upon
understanding, wisdom then guides me with, I pray, an appropriate response
for the individual. One message I share with students is “To thine own self
be true.” (Shakespeare).
Q: What is your personal mission? What do you hope to accomplish by working
with the Wesleyan community?
A: My personal mission is to provide a venue for students to worship
freely and openly express who they are utilizing their gifts and talents to
worship God. To provide a safe and sacred space that frees them to let their
lights shine. We are to let our light so shine before men, that they may see
our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven. (Mt 5:16). To
support Christian students in being as open in expressing their beliefs and
faith as do other traditions on campus, no longer being the silent majority.
I aspire to see students do well at Wesleyan, as they prepare to enter the
Q: Prior to Wesleyan, where were you preaching or working?
A: Currently, I am serving as the senior pastor at the First Baptist
Church on Main Street here in Middletown. Formerly, I was the chaplain at
Connecticut Baptist Homes, Inc., an assisted living facility for the
elderly, and pastor of the Black Church at Yale; a student-led Christian
interdenominational Church at Yale University. Prior to accepting the call
to ministry, I invested more than 15 years in corporate America, in
management positions with The Travelers Insurance Companies, and Heublein,
Inc. I am also the former president and founder of PathWays International,
an executive recruiting and human resources consulting firm and Strategies
to Employ People (STEP), Inc. a job placement and training firm that
partnered with faith-based organizations to support the employment and
training of at-risk youth and young adults. After managing and operating the
two business enterprises, I launched in 1994 and 1999 respectively, I
suspended my entrepreneurial ventures in September of 2001, to answer the
call of God to ministry.
Q: Where did you receive your divinity degree?
A: I earned a master’s of divinity degree from Yale Divinity School,
a master’s of education in human resource education from Boston University
Graduate School, and a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of
Tennessee at Martin.
Q: What other local religious affiliations do you have?
A: As an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church, I serve on
the executive board of the Ministers Council of Connecticut and the American
Baptist Churches of Connecticut Board of Managers. As a local pastor, I am
affiliated with the Middletown Clergy Association and the Middletown
Ministerial Alliance. Also, I am a member of the Board of Directors for The
Children’s Home of Cromwell, St. Vincent De Paul Place, and Judah House. And
I was most recently elected to serve on the Yale Divinity School Alumni
Q: What are your hobbies, interests or other interesting tidbits we
should know about Rev. Burnett?
A: I’m rediscovering my interest in dance and golf, following years
of dedicated work. I love music and enjoy singing. Perhaps, some students
and faculty will assist me with revitalizing my passions.
Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection