Syracuse University Magazine

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Reverend Tiffany Steinwert

Lifelong Passion for Justice

When the Reverend Tiffany Steinwert was a young girl, she never imagined that one day she would be a minister, let alone the sixth—and first woman—inaugurated dean of Hendricks Chapel. In fact, she never went to church. “The call to ministry was something I always fought,” says Steinwert, who grew up in Cincinnati in what at the time was considered an interfaith family. “My mother was Protestant and my father was Catholic, so religion—especially institutionalized religion—was always a point of controversy and conflict for us. I was drawn to the church, while at the same time I was suspicious of it.”

Steinwert’s uneasy relationship with the church began to change in high school when friends asked her to join a Methodist youth group. Along with the fun activities and ski trips, she heard stories about Jesus, and for the first time really listened to his message of compassion. “My family was one generation removed from poverty, so I’ve been passionate about justice all my life,” Steinwert says. At age 5, she was so determined to feed the hungry that she went door to door around her neighborhood, collecting canned goods for the local food pantry. But after filling her little red wagon with hundreds upon hundreds of items, Steinwert realized no matter how much food she collected, it would never be enough.  “I wanted to stamp out world hunger by myself,” she recalls. “Jesus’ message taught me that we must pull the wagon together if we are to create real change in the world.”

After graduating from Williams College with degrees in women’s studies and psychology, Steinwert spent two years as a Methodist missionary in rural Nicaragua. Through her missionary work, she came to understand that theology is not just an abstract concept, but can address concrete societal needs. “I finally answered the call and said ‘yes’ to becoming a minister,” says Steinwert, who holds graduate degrees in divinity and practical theology from the Boston University School of Theology.  “The United Methodist Church is a perfect fit for me because its founder, John Wesley, believed ‘there is no holiness, but social holiness.’” 

Before moving to Syracuse with her partner, Joshua Arrowood, and their toddler son Grady, Steinwert  was a teaching fellow at Boston and Harvard universities and served as a senior pastor with Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, a mission of The United Methodist Church that ministers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) congregants. She has extensive experience engaging communities of faith in projects that address such issues as urban renewal, global poverty, racism, and discrimination against LGBT individuals. “Dr. Steinwert’s strength in scholarship, counseling, and building understanding in diverse communities, and her unique combination of interfaith work and higher education experience, make her an excellent match for Hendricks Chapel,” says Thomas V. Wolfe G’02, former dean of Hendricks Chapel who now serves as senior vice president and dean of SU’s Division of Student Affairs. “I know she will lead the chapel into the future while continuing its long tradition of being a home for all faiths.” 

As the spiritual leader of Hendricks Chapel, Steinwert says she is able to seamlessly integrate her roles as pastor, scholar, and community organizer because the University understands the dean must do more than offer Sunday services. “For me, there has always been a strong connection between practice and scholarship, and I’m anxious to explore creative ways the chapel can build upon SU’s vision of Scholarship in Action,” she says. “For 80 years, Hendricks Chapel has been the moral and ethical center of Syracuse University, and I feel privileged to be part of a network of caring individuals who work together to help all students find meaning in life that is greater than themselves.”  —Christine Yackel

Photo by Susan Kahn