New Associate Dean of Religious Life brings diverse ministry experience to USC

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Reverend Brandon Harris understands how important the college years can be in determining his life path, both professionally and personally.

Harris entered his first year of undergrad with the intention of becoming a doctor or a lawyer and set out on the path of faith. He credits much of this transition to the mentors he had while in college.

As he begins his final journey Monday as associate dean of USC’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, Harris, 30, hopes to provide the same level of support and direction his mentors gave him when he was a student.

“It’s one of those unique phases of life where you get to really think about the big questions,” Harris said. “Being able to help students think about what they want to do in life and what gifts, skills and opportunities they can bring to the world is great fun and truly a joy.”

Lessons from an iconic place of worship for USC’s new associate dean of religious life

A graduate of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania — one of the oldest historically black colleges in the United States — Harris went on to earn his master’s degree in divinity from Emory University in Atlanta. There he interned at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once pastored. Since 2005, the church has been led by current U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, who influenced Harris during his internship at Ebenezer from 2014 to 2016. There, Harris led different worship services and Bible studies with students from the primary school through university.

He is a thoughtful, dedicated and deeply committed servant leader.

US Senator Raphael Warnock

“I am thrilled with this next chapter in Reverend Brandon Harris’ career,” Warnock said. “He is a thoughtful, dedicated, and deeply committed servant leader. I have witnessed his character, leadership, and heart for God and have no doubt that the University of Southern California will benefit from his appointment as as Associate Dean of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

Harris began working with students while at Ebenezer, where he founded a weekly Bible study at Georgia State University.

“That’s where I really learned what it meant to be a pastor — that being a pastor meant showing up for people, whether it was at funerals, at hospital beds, or just working with students,” Harris said.

Leading a Congregation and Path to Ministry

After graduating from Emory in 2016, Harris moved to Washington, D.C., where he served in both academia and ministry for nearly six years. First a Protestant chaplain at Georgetown University, he eventually became an adjunct lecturer, teaching courses in spirituality and leadership, African-American religious and intellectual history, and 20th-century Protestant theology.

Although he continued as a lecturer in Georgetown, he eventually left his position as chaplain to become the senior minister of the Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ.

Harris, from upstate New York, said the ministry wasn’t always in the cards. After arriving at Lincoln University and taking an introductory religion course, he developed an interest in the subject and changed his major—at the encouragement of several faculty members—to religion and political Sciences.

I just wanted to see how religion could play a role in thinking about issues of justice and human flourishing in the world.

Reverend Brandon Harris

“I had an interest in politics, a commitment to social justice, and just wanted to see how religion could play a role in thinking about issues of justice and human flourishing around the world,” he said. -he declares.

While in Lincoln, Harris interned as a pastor in a rural and predominantly white congregation. Although this was not his first exposure to public speaking, it was the first time he had led a congregation of people with life experiences as different as his own. Harris credits those early days with helping to show him how unifying religion can be and affirming that ministry was something he would do with his life.

He eventually decided to go to Emory for a master’s degree in theology and certificates in black church studies and Baptist studies, although he had never been to the South.

“I connected with college students because of our shared experience of being new to Atlanta and the fact that many of them were first-generation college students,” he said. “Our job as ministers and college chaplains is to connect with people and with their stories.”

Become a Trojan horse

Varun Soni, dean of religious life at USC, said Harris is one of the most accomplished and inspiring religious leaders he knows.

Through his pastoral care, he builds communities of belonging and justice wherever he goes, and I am so excited that he is now joining our college community.

Varun SoniUSC Dean of Religious Life

“As chaplain and professor at Georgetown University, and as senior minister of the Peoples Congregational United Church in Washington, D.C., he accompanied students during their most triumphant and traumatic times, offering spiritual guidance, theological reflection and love,” Soni said. said. “Through his ministry, he builds communities of belonging and justice wherever he goes, and I am so excited that he is now joining our college community.”

With many students identifying as non-religious, Harris said he views much of his role on campus as simply listening.

“How can we help you find connection, meaning, or belonging in the USC community? Harris said. “How can our office help you find those places where you feel supported, safe and connected? »

As he prepares for his new role at a new school and in a new part of the country, Harris said he looks forward to being part of a dedicated team that understands the true purpose of the office.

“The core of what we do is making sure students have a place where they can thrive and where they feel seen and supported,” Harris said. “That is the main objective of what we are called to do.”

More stories on: Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Religion

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