Office of Religious Life

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Meet Our Staff!

The Rev. Mark Forrester


University Chaplain, Director of Religious Life

Reverend Mark Forrester is an ordained United Methodist minister (Tennessee Conference), a native Nashvillian and an alumnus of Vanderbilt Divinity School (M.Div. 1983). He is also a graduate of Trevecca University (BA, 1979) and Columbia Theological Seminary (D.Min., 2005). Prior to becoming university chaplain in September 2012, Mark was the Affiliated United Methodist Chaplain at Vanderbilt between 1994 and 2012, serving as a campus minister and director of the Methodist/Episcopal ecumenical student ministry, The Wesley/Canterbury Fellowship.

Before entering ministry in higher education in 1991, when Mark was appointed to direct the Wesley Foundation at Austin Peay State University, he served eight years as a full time parish minister. Mark has served his denomination as a mentor to candidates seeking ordination, as a member of the UMC’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women, and as a professional ethics trainer for the Tennessee Conference Board of Ministry.

Mark is married to Elaine Billingsley, has two daughters, Emily and Shelley, and two grandchildren, Cayden and Layne. He loves to cook, write, read and remain physically active by running, cycling and hiking.


The Rev. Gretchen Person


Associate University Chaplain, Associate of Director Religious Life

Gretchen Person, Associate University Chaplain and Associate Director of Religious Life, previously served as Director of Spiritual Life at DePauw University. She graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree from St. Olaf College, studied music in Copenhagen, Denmark, and worked at the International Church of Copenhagen. She began her M.Div. studies at Harvard University, graduated from Luther Seminary, and received the Master of Sacred Theology degree from Yale University. She has also studied at the Goethe Institute in Murnau, Germany, and at Valparaiso University. She completed internships in both the San Diego and San Francisco areas of California, and has served as a pastor of congregations in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Tennessee. An ordained pastor in the Lutheran (ELCA) church, she has also served as a hospice and hospital chaplain and as Associate Campus Pastor of a private liberal arts college. Gretchen and her family enjoy sharing time with family and friends, travel, reading and biking.


Kay Tyler


Administrative Assistant

Kay Tyler grew up on a family farm in northwest Tennessee, and keeps an open cotton boll in her office. When asked why, “It’s a reminder; when stressed, remember the real definition of hard work; farmers know it”.  As an adult, Kay has lived in Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Hawaii. Some of her jobs included inventory control, Parts Manager for two auto dealerships, computer operator and Micrographics Systems supervisor. She finally returned to Tennessee in 1986, choosing Nashville. A Vanderbilt employee since May 1986, she joined the Office of Religious Life in December 2005. She appreciates the continued opportunities for learning about faith traditions and cultures, and enjoys gaining knowledge when assisting the chaplains and religious student groups with programs and events.

Friends know Kay as an avid reader, book collector, and promoter of literacy. She is a member of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) and the Sisters in Crime Nashville chapters. When asked for a little-known fact, she reveals that she and her husband (also a Vanderbilt employee) are certified KCBS barbeque judges.



Nicholas Moore


Graduate Assistant

Nicholas Moore is a second year M.Ed. student in the Higher Education Administration program. Originally from South Florida, he didn’t venture far to attend The University of Miami where he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Creative Writing in 2013. Nicholas developed a passion for student affairs during this time, immersing himself in various student leadership roles on campus. Upon graduation, Nicholas continued to work at his alma mater in various capacities—most notably as a program assistant in the Butler Center for Service and Leadership and as an intern within Cru’s U.S. Campus Ministry. During his first year at Vanderbilt, Nicholas served as the graduate assistant for Peabody Career Services. Alongside his role as the graduate assistant for The Office of the University Chaplain and Religious Life, he also works as a graduate student worker in The Office of the Provost and a practicum student in The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons. Much of Nicholas’s professional interests surround the intersection of community & civic engagement, spiritual development, and the first-year experience. After graduating, he hopes to pursue an entry level position in student affairs that merges these interests among others.


Byron ‘Tyler’ Coles


Office Assistant & Divinity School Intern

Tyler is a first-year graduate student within the Vanderbilt Divinity School working towards his Masters in Divinity. A native of Roanoke, Virginia, Tyler is also a 2014 graduate of Roanoke College where he received a Bachelors Degree in History and Religion. Inspired and motivated by his UU-Pagan religious identity, he quickly began organizing around the topics of racial diversity and awareness, the LGBTQ community, and interfaith cooperation while at Roanoke. Through his experiences of creating community based in understanding, Tyler received a motion towards the ministry and looks to become an ordained minister within the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) as a College Chaplain upon graduating from Vanderbilt.


Mary Early-Zald, Ph.D.


Divinity School Intern

Mary Early-Zald, a second year M.Div. student in the Divinity School, has been affiliated with Vanderbilt in different roles for the past fifteen years.  She has served as an Executive, Leadership, and Diversity Coach, the Assistant Director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program, and a Leadership Instructor in Human and Organizational Development.  Before relocating to Nashville in 2000, Mary worked for several years as a Licensed Psychologist in Minneapolis, mostly on college campuses.  She graduated from the University of Nebraska (B.A., 1985) and University of Minnesota (Ph.D., 1993).  She is working toward ministerial ordination in the Unitarian Universalist church, and has been a member of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville for fifteen years.  Her main ministerial interests are racial and gender justice, and Youth and Young Adult Ministry.  

Mary is married to David Zald, and has one daughter, Khalila.  She enjoys choral singing, dancing, activism, commuter biking, running, film, musical theater, talking to people, and cold weather!

Joy E Bronson - Headshot

Joy Bronson


Office Assistant

Joy Bronson is a second-year M.Div. student at Vanderbilt Divinity School. A graduate of the College of Wooster (OH), Joy worked for 10 years in social justice advocacy primarily in the areas of nonprofit program management and development. After serving with an early childhood education program, a low-income housing company, an advocacy organization for youth in foster care, and finally as a minister of missions at a Columbus, OH, church, the latest iteration of her work focuses around supporting faith-based organizations and peoples in intentionally developing deeply impactful social justice mindsets, work, and communities. Joy is particularly interested in more greatly establishing holistic relational connectivity across race, class, and multi-faith experiences of the Divine. She is currently pursuing ordination as a Deacon in the United Methodist Church.

Who’s who among our Affiliated Chaplains and Directors.