Photo by Alec McPike
Pepperdine students most likely saw Gus Peterson around last semester. And anyone involved with New Student Orientation this week couldn’t have missed him or his bright orange shoes.
Working closely with Chaplain Sara Barton, Peterson acted as the interim director of Convocation for the spring 2015 semester. After spending most of his summer in Florence, Italy with his wife and Fine Arts Professor Gretchen Batcheller and their 1-year-old daughter, he’s back and officially part of the Pepperdine community as the new director of Convocation.
Peterson said he has big plans for this semester and intends to expand upon the current relationship between the Chaplain’s Office and the students.
“I want this semester to be about innovation, collaboration and a willingness to work with students,” he said.
Part of Peterson’s plan includes taking a look at Convo being a requirement. He is fully aware that it is often viewed as a chore, or even a place to grab a quick nap. Peterson said he is hoping to shift the overall perception of Convo “from transactional to transformational.”
His plan for this shift starts with bringing in his unique personality to the Convocation program. Peterson said he hopes his commitment to the church, the students and also the university will help strengthen relationships between the students and the administration. He also wants to make the weekly Wednesday Chapel feel a bit more convesational.
“I want it to feel like a shared space,” he said. “Let’s turn the lights on, so we can see who’s all in the room, and do our best to meet each person in the room where they’re at.”
Peterson’s plan also includes tailoring speakers so their messages will be of the biggest benefit possible to the students. He said aligning the message of a given Convocation with an event that affects the students’ lives could make Wednesdays more purposeful, and be worth more to them than just academic credit.
“We want to root Wednesdays in preaching, and by that connect Wednesdays to our community and to the world,” he said.
Peterson spoke excitedly about his time working in the Chaplain’s Office. He said it’s truly a special place to work, and everyone has become very close.
“We all really love each other,” he said. “It’s overwhelming in all the the right ways.”
Laughing, Peterson described their office environment as being “in the honeymoon phase.”
Peterson graduated from Seattle Pacific University in 1998 with a degree in Theater. After college, he stayed in Seattle and worked in production for the Kingdome, Safeco Field and the Experience Music Project Museum. Peterson said that after several years of a constant grind, he realized life was about more than just work and money. He decided to spend a year volunteering in Ireland and two months traveling by train throughout Europe.
Once back in Seattle, Peterson worked briefly as an office tech for a medical malpractice insurance company and then a merchant services credit card processing company. He said neither job suited him very well, and he knew there was a more meaningful path for him to follow. In 2012, he graduated from seminary, but decided his service to God and the community would be more useful outside the church.
“I have found deep resonance in a call to work vocationally outside the church, but alongside the church,” Peterson said. “While in seminary, I was on the ordination path for [Presbyterian Churches in the U.S.], but sensed a pull away from this, and toward more nontraditional settings.”
Before he started at Pepperdine last spring, Peterson worked for a nonprofit organization in Seattle, specializing in providing recreational resources to pediatric cancer patients. He said the job was extremely rewarding, but having to commute from Seattle to Malibu to see his wife was not ideal.
When the opportunity came for him to join his wife at Pepperdine, and to work in a position where he could be close to God and the students, Peterson said he was thrilled.
“I find joy and fulfillment in settings where the people I come into contact with represent a broad spectrum of life experience, belief and questions,” Peterson said. “That said, I have a deep value for the life of the church, and my wife and I both serve gladly in our church community.”
Talking about his family and experience in Florence this past summer, Peterson said he’s been teaching his daughter English, while his wife teaches her German. He said one of the best moments of the trip was when she said, “I love you” to both of them in German.
“That’s the good stuff in life, right there,” he said.
Follow Alec McPIke on Twitter: @alecmcpike