CDSP Names New Director of Chapel

Dr. Ben Riggs
Dr. Ben Riggs

Church Divinity School of the Pacific has announced the appointment of Dr. Ben Riggs to the position of director of chapel.

“Dr. Riggs has served CDSP as an adjunct professor of church music and liturgical singing, and he knows our community well,” said the Very Rev. W. Mark Richardson, PhD, dean and president. “We look forward to his seasoned liturgical leadership as we prepare to step back into All Saints Chapel together for the first time in nearly eighteen months.”

Riggs plans to build on classroom experience as he enters the new position.

“I’m most excited about collaborating with the students at CDSP,” he said. “I’ve always found working with seminarians to be incredibly rich and fulfilling. Leading worship requires all sorts of bravery, especially when learning news skills like singing unaccompanied. There’s nothing more gratifying than helping another person achieve something they never thought possible.”

Riggs will continue to serve as minister of music at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Oakland, and as artistic director of Oakland Gay Men’s Chorus and of Resound Ensemble, a chamber chorus of volunteer mixed voices in San Francisco. He fills the post vacated by the Rev. Dr. Randal Gardner ’84, who beginning in July will focus entirely on his role as CDSP donor and alumni relations associate at CDSP.

Perhaps the most significant area of responsibility for the director of chapel is convening the teams that plan CDSP worship each week. Riggs likens this design work to curating a musical program.

“I love helping worship planners visualize the entire ritual, imagining the subtle movements between elements and integrating the contributions of many individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences,” he said.

Prior to moving to the Bay Area, Riggs served as full-time artistic director of Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, a 160-member volunteer arts organization in Minneapolis, MN. He came to Minnesota after years in Colorado, during which among other roles was an adjunct faculty member at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He directed the Iliff Choir, assisted in planning community worship, and team-taught a class in ritual and worship. He holds a bachelor’ degree in piano from Wheaton College Conservatory of Music as well as a master’s in choral conducting and a doctorate in choral literature and performance from the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Riggs says his own formation as a liturgical leader will inform his approach to mentoring students.

“When I first began working as a church musician, one of my biggest challenges was being present in worship,” he explained. “I was physically present, of course, but I was so concerned about making sure all the worship elements were executed correctly I never felt connected to the actual worship experience.

“It’s natural for worship leaders to fall into this habit of perfectionism over presence, but I have learned over time that worship does not need to be perfect to be authentic and powerful. I hope chapel services at CDSP can be spaces of learning, growth, and ever deepening presence for our students—as leaders and as worshipers.”

Like so many music ministers during the Covid-19 pandemic, Riggs has helped his congregation learn to sing and worship in new ways. These included monthly Zoom-based hymn sings and sung evening prayer services, both of which he said regularly attracted more congregants than would ever have joined in-person.

“After the past year and a half, I have trouble believing everything will just go back to the way it was before, including how we plan and experience worship,” he said. “Perhaps the biggest challenge of returning to in-person worship will be applying the lessons learned during our time apart. Hybrid models of in-person and online worship can help us forge even deeper connections to one another. I can’t think of anything more exciting than finding innovative ways to grow and broaden the Beloved Community.”

Riggs will begin his appointment at CDSP July 1.