Pastoral Care

Pennington has had a school chaplain since its founding. The office of the Chaplain provides another layer of care for students and faculty. Pastoral care is provided to the Pennington community through the work of the Chaplain. It is entirely voluntary, confidential, and responsive to the needs of the individual. Indeed, an important part of the Chaplain’s work is identifying those needs. The Chaplain is especially helpful during times of illness, difficult diagnoses or injuries, and hospitalizations. He can accompany students, especially boarding students, to appointments and is usually present for trips to the emergency room. In hospital settings, chaplains are required by the Joint Commission. They are an integral part of a patient’s healthcare team, participating in rounds and assisting with medical decisions. Pennington’s school Chaplain functions similarly, offering a unique perspective on a student’s life and well-being on campus. Please see the FAQ for more information.


Spiritual Life

Our campus has a vibrant spiritual life that we support in our Chapel.
Our students and faculty are an interfaith spiritual community that comes together for a time of reflection.

Pennington's focus on spiritual life is devoted to fostering character and morality in all our students, with an emphasis on the School's core values of honor, virtue, and humility.

A Methodist tradition

The Pennington School, established as the Methodist Episcopal Male Seminary in 1838, has a long tradition of spirituality. Over the years, our students and their religious beliefs have diversified and, in turn, the School's chapel services have also changed. Today, our students come from many faiths and traditions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Quakerism, and Buddhism.

Weekly Chapel services

Chapel at the Pennington School is a long and closely held tradition, beginning with the School’s founding. Early on, School leaders valued Chapel as an open and inclusive time of gathering for the whole community. The Chaplain is responsible for this weekly time to learn and reflect.


The purpose of Chapel is to:


·         Create opportunities for self-discovery, moral and ethical development, and exploration of the world’s religious traditions

·         Provide a dedicated time each week for personal reflection and community sharing

·         Serve as a time and place to hear from a variety of groups and individuals

As a community, all students and faculty attend Chapel, which is held in the local United Methodist Church. During this time, we hear messages of hope, challenge, inspiration, and reflection. Chapel speakers are chosen to reflect Pennington’s diversity, and may be drawn from the student body, faculty, or the wider Pennington family. Music is also an important part of the Chapel Program. In any given week we might hear the chorus sing or the jazz ensemble play a piece. At other times we are all invited to sing together. Music is carefully chosen to support the inclusive mission of the Chapel program. Our Director of Music is Mr. Bill Alford.

Many students present at Chapel throughout the year. Their messages and presentations may reflect the exciting experiences in which they have taken part. For example, participants in Pennington’s annual trips to Haiti and Kentucky share their thoughts about the time spent in service over spring break. Or, we may have the opportunity to hear what it is like to live in a family of elected officials, discussing campaigning and important political issues. Chapel is our opportunity to hear about many of the wonderful things our students accomplish and believe in.

Pennington faculty and administrators are also important contributors to our Chapel program. Teachers share meaningful stories from their lives, connecting with students in ways that are not possible within traditional classroom walls. Whether it’s a lesson on perseverance, a story about a long-lasting friendship, or a harrowing account of studying abroad, faculty chapels are a favorite feature of spiritual life at The Pennington School.

Guest speaker program

About once a month, an outside speaker is invited to present in Chapel as a guest of our community. Ms. Amelia Becker, chair of the Religion department, is responsible for the speaker program which includes the Crane Lecture Series. The speaker program is a dynamic feature of our Chapel program. It is designed to offer unique and valuable opportunities for students and faculty to experience powerful, engaging, and well-respected leaders from around the country and the world. In recent years, speakers have included Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Luke Powery, and Rabbi Niles Goldstein, just to name a few. 





What is Pastoral Care?


Spiritual or emotional conflict can affect a person’s overall well-being. Pastoral care is a ‘ministry of presence’ whose main focus is to provide a supportive, safe environment in which a person can reflect on his or her circumstances. Depending on the individual’s needs and objectives, the chaplain can offer perspectives, tools, and strategies to one help process his or her goals. When appropriate, the chaplain can refer a person to another care provider, including Ms. Desouza.


I am not a Christian. May I still receive pastoral care?


Yes. The Pennington School values its heritage in the United Methodist tradition, but over the years the School has consistently been an inclusive, interfaith community. As such, the Chaplain’s ministry is focused on serving the diverse spiritual needs of students and faculty. The Chaplain can
• help students work through difficult questions regarding their faith
• provide readings and guidance for those exploring new spiritual growth
• help renew an appreciation for the religious traditions of one’s family
• administer rites and rituals within the boundaries of one’s religious prescriptions
• assist boarding students in finding houses of worship, and connect them with the resources to attend services, such as transportation.

All of these services are available to the entire School community, regardless of an individual’s religious or spiritual identity. Our students and staff come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including: Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, and Hinduism.


I am a parent/guardian. May I reach out to the chaplain?


Yes! The chaplain can be contacted by parents and guardians for a variety of reasons. Many parents simply want to check in with the chaplain for another perspective on their child’s progress and well-being. Other times, parents have specific questions about how their son or daughter might be best served by the chaplain while on campus. The chaplain has also journeyed with families through difficult times such as funerals and illnesses, many of which take place away from campus. In these cases, the chaplain is available to serve the community whenever appropriate, subject to the oversight of the headmaster. Whatever the circumstances, parents and family members are encouraged to contact the chaplain confidentially in the event they have questions or requests.


Does The Pennington School observe religious holidays during the school year?


Religious holidays and observances are recognized and celebrated throughout the year. Some of these are recognized with days off and closed classes. Others are celebrated with chapel presentations, daily email announcements, traditional, cultural, or ethnic meals, and other events on campus. The chaplain works closely with the director of Diversity to raise awareness and give voice to various religious and cultural holidays. For questions regarding a student’s absence due to a non-sanctioned religious commitment or observance, please contact Chad Bridges, dean of students.


Are there any houses of worship within walking distance from the Pennington campus?


Yes, there are several options within walking distance:
• St. James Parish (Roman Catholic)
• Pennington Presbyterian Church
• Pennington United Methodist Church
• St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church
• Bethel African Methodist Episcopal
• First Baptist Church (American/Northern Baptist)

There are many more within a short drive:
• Princeton Community Church (Christian, non-denominational)
• Pennington Unitarian Universalist
• Har Sinai Temple (Reform Judaism)
• Adath Israel Congregation (Conservative Judaism)
• Various Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist places of worship in Mercer County

Contact Information

Aaron Twitchell Chaplain
Aaron Twitchell

Aaron Twitchell is a member of the residential faculty and lives in Becher Hall with his wife and two young daughters. Mr. Twitchell is a clinically trained, interfaith chaplain under the supervision of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, and is a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The Mission of the Office of the Chaplain is to: create a safe space for spiritual exploration and renewal; provide spiritual and emotional support during times of crisis; and to serve as a confidant to members of our community.