Matt Stroud hired as middle school chaplain, connects with whole community
ESD welcomed Matt Stroud as the new middle school chaplain in August. Over the past couple of years, there has been some turnover in the middle school chaplain position.
After leaving ESD at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, Rev. Tim Kennedy took on the position of senior chaplain and the faith formation department chair at All Saints Episcopal School in Tyler, Texas. Because Rev. Nate Bostian was hired as the senior chaplain in 2021, the school needed a new chaplain for the middle school.
Even though Chaplain Matt has worked with youth in summer camps and mission trips, he didn’t know what to expect coming into ESD as he had not previously worked in a school before.
“[ESD] feels like a really good fit in terms of being able to have an opportunity to meet with students and talk about matters of faith [and] having chapel every day [where] you get to share a message or help others share a message,” Chaplain Matt said. “That’s just been extraordinary.”
Fr. Nate, as well as students and faculty members, has seen the knowledge that Chaplain Matt has brought into the community.
“I think that what he’s brought is a whole bunch of energy and a whole bunch of knowledge from his 19 years as a youth minister,” Fr. Nate said. “[I] was the youth minister that was [at St. Nicholas Episcopal Church] before him, so I was the one who recruited him to help with the youth group there, and then when I left St. Nicholas, he took the job and was there for 19 years.”
Chaplain Matt has already spoken to the upper school during chapel four or five times, and Fr. Nate emphasizes the importance of all chaplains going to different grades’ chapels once a month.
“So even though Chaplain Toni is in lower school, both Chaplain Matt and I about once a month we’ll go down [to] lower school and teach there,” Fr. Nate said. “And then we also have all three of us go into middle school, of course, and all three of us come up and talk to upper school as well.”
Senior Layne Scheinberg is the liaison of the middle school chapel guild. With this position, she and three other senior members of the guild work with Chaplain Matt in planning sermons for the middle school about the virtues of the month.
“[The guild] talks about once a month, but it takes a lot of planning,” Scheinberg said. So maybe like two or three meetings before we actually do it. We email [Chaplain Matt], set up meetings and he kind of helps us formulate the sermons.”
Through working with him on the guild and listening to his occasional sermons to the upper school, Scheinberg has been able to see the changes Chaplain Matt has brought into chapel.
“[Chaplain Matt] [is] really nice and open to pretty much every idea that you have,” Scheinberg said. “I really enjoy his humor and his attempt to not be so formal in chapel, and I feel like it’s allowed a lot of high schoolers to really connect with him and really listen to what he’s saying to us.”
Chaplain Matt was born and raised in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and grew up as an Episcopalian.
“My mom and dad made sure I went to youth group and they made sure that I got to church every Sunday,” Chaplain Matt said. “To me, it was very formative in terms of understanding kind of what I was meant to do, but it was in my later years that I started deciding, maybe I should go ahead and do those things.”
He started focusing and thinking about faith only after he moved to Texas in 1997, and his friend invited him to a program named Alpha, an organization whose mission is to help churches, ministries and individuals develop a relationship with Jesus.
“[Alpha] meets on Wednesday nights and asks questions about faith and Christianity,” Chaplain Matt said. “At that time, there [were] a lot of questions that were being asked that I, even though I’d grown up in the church, didn’t necessarily have an answer for. And that was really when things kind of became my own. I started really thinking about questions and faith and in answering those [I] realized there’s a better way to do things than what I have been doing. And that really was the start of my journey. That would probably [have] been around the time I was in my 20s.”
Before coming to ESD, Chaplain Matt served as the youth minister for over 19 years at the St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Flower Mound.
“[St. Nicholas Episcopal Church is] sixth to 12th grade and then it became a college ministry too,” Chaplain Matt said. “[I did] different classes for confirmation or first communion. So, much of our ministry was a discipleship component, so that’s teaching the scriptures [and] theology.”