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Behind the Bruin: Rev. Heather Daugherty


Heather Daugherty at her desk, Braden Simmons

Heather Daugherty parks in her driveway, returning from the end of another busy day. 

 

Working up an appetite from her job on campus, she’s ready for a home-cooked meal. 

 

She enters the kitchen and sees her husband and Belmont religion professor, Bradley Daugherty, preparing a pescetarian-friendly dish for family dinner. 

 

“There’s stereotypes about how if mom’s not at home, you have frozen pizza or eggs for dinner. That's what it's like if Brad's not home. I'm like ‘What? What am I supposed to cook again?’” she said. 

 

Breaking stereotypes has become somewhat typical for the Daugherty household both at home and their work on campus. 

 

Heather Daugherty is a self-proclaimed bookworm, a mother of two, and as some students may know her, the university minister at Belmont University.  

 

In her role, she oversees spiritual life on campus by working with University Ministries and as a byproduct is also the adviser to Bridge Builders, an organization focused on fostering a community space for LGBTQ+ students on campus through a spiritual lens.  

 

Before arriving on campus, Heather Daugherty worked at Trevecca Nazarene University for over a decade until one day she was told about an opening at Belmont as the university minister. 

 

“I was like, ‘well, it's worth trying and seeing what happens,’ So I applied for that job, got it and came to Belmont in June of 2016,” she said. 

 

Filling in a role that had been previously held by a Baptist man, Heather Daugherty knew she was far different from previous leadership.  

 

She was in for challenges that some women face when climbing the ladder in ministry. 

 

Would she feel out of place? 

 

Would she be able to navigate a changing culture like Belmont? 

 

Would she be taken seriously? 

 

“Sometimes someone will come out of Preview Day and they will make a beeline toward my male colleagues and ask them questions, and they'll be like, ‘well, actually, the university minister's right here,’” she said.  

 

Assumptions are made about whether a Christian university can have a woman in a leadership position, she said. 

 

Traditionally Christian leadership roles have been largely dominated by men.  


The outside of Daugherty's office, Braden Simmons

When looking at chaplaincy positions at some colleges in Tennessee – such as Trevecca University, Union University and Sewanee University –  they all are headed by male university chaplains. 

 

“It is about her being good at her work and what she does. But it's also about representation,” said Bradley Daugherty.  

 

Even while dealing with these challenges over her eight years in the position, Heather Daugherty has also seen the good that can come from her being here. 

 

“Even though there are times when it is hard to be in a place where there haven't been a lot of women, and where folks think that it's not legitimate for me to be a woman in this place… my prayer is that by me doing faithful work, that God uses that in the lives of people to make a shift and a change in what they think and what they believe in,” she said. “To believe that all things are possible.” 

 

During Heather Daugherty’s time in college, she questioned this thought and wondered if she really would be able to do anything in church leadership. 

 

“I began to sense a call to ministry, and I didn't know what that looked like. My tradition ordained women but didn't know what to do with them once they ordained them,” she said. 

 

She looked at options such as being a missionary and a doctor or simply seeking work in the clergy.  

 

Heather Daugherty always thought she wanted to be a doctor even through college. 

 

“I wanted to be an anesthesiologist, so I didn't have to talk to people and I could make a lot of money,” she said. 

 

But then one day she knew it wasn’t the right fit for her and the choice became apparent.  

 

She went to seminary and moved to Boston, in doing so she received a number of questions about her future and what she wanted to do.  

 

She really only had one answer: “Anything but preach.” 

 

That thought wouldn’t last long as she would eventually find work at Trevecca as its director of spiritual formation. 

 

“We made the decision as partners that we were going to prioritize her opportunities,” said Bradley Daugherty. “It had a lot to do with how gendered religious leadership is.” 

 

Heather Daugherty’s position gives hope to some female students at Belmont that they can also be in leadership roles in religious spaces. 

 

“Watching her fulfill that in her position here at Belmont, it's been so impactful, and it's almost in a way of if she can do it. I can do it,” said Bailey Smith, a senior accounting and corporate communications major on the University Ministries worship team.  

 

Heather Daugherty’s goal for students, mirroring her spiritual journey at the same age, is to expose them to a variety of thoughts and inspire other female students to see they can be in leadership positions in religious spaces. 

 

Originally from Illinois, Daugherty grew up in a religiously split household where her father went to the Church of Nazarene while her mother was a Catholic. 

 

“I had one foot in both of those places when I was with my mom…Roman Catholic worship and all of those things when I was with my dad, in the Church of the Nazarene,” she said. “So I kind of always had those two parts of my life.” 

 

While spiritual life on campus is her primary focus, Heather Daugherty has also worked as a resource for students not only for questions of faith but also with questions regarding their next steps in life. 

 

“I feel like I was born to do this work at this place, and at this time,” she said. “We're trying to do something that not very many other Christian colleges are trying to do to hold ourselves together as this community that embraces all kinds of people and I love getting to be a part of making that happen every day.” 

 

Every night when Heather Daugherty walks through the door, she gives her dog Shadow a good pat on the head before reaching for a book and waiting for her husband’s culinary effort. 

 

She’s never been the one to make dinner, but she knows how to lead a team and students through religious questions and discussions, and luckily for her, university ministers only have to know about the latter. 

 

This article was written by Braden Simmons

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