A Humanist Welcomes the Call to Chaplaincy


I keep saying it's important to surround yourself with different voices. For a Baptist Minister, you can't get much different than a Unitarian Universalist (although Shakeisha and I have more in common than most Baptist I know...) I'm thankful for her for so many things, the first of which is her contribution to my blog while I'm embracing my new role as father to a newborn daughter, but more on that later. I'm most thankful for her friendship. My experience at Wake Forest has been made better by simply knowing her. ~tBSB

When Justin asked if I’d like to be a guest contributor for his blog, I happily agreed and knew right away what I wanted to talk about: Chaplaincy.

Some of you might be wondering how or why a Unitarian Universalist (and self-described Humanist) might address such a thing, I can only answer that from my own experiences and so that’s what this blog is about.

My “call” to chaplaincy didn’t make a sound, I heard no voice calling me to ministry, while my congregants did say, “Hey, you’d make a good minister,” it wasn’t until I had the “feeling.” When I came to divinity school almost three years ago, I was driven by an experience I had on a trip to Wales. I was standing on these cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea with the wide open sky above me and in that moment I had this overwhelming feeling of how small we were in scale to the universe. I had this realization of how insignificant, yet so interconnected humanity was to each other and our planet throughout time (not to sound too much like Doctor Who). I came to divinity school with almost four years of congregational lay leadership, so I thought my experience was directing me towards congregational ministry, but it wasn’t.

My real call, or first inclination of that feeling, came during my second year of Div School when I witnessed the spiritual transformation of a dear friend who was going through an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). I recalled my mentor ministers telling me how important CPE had been to their pastoral formation so I decided to explore chaplaincy in this way and registered for an extended unit during my third year. Six months have passed since I began my chaplaincy journey and I have never been more certain of anything in my life than the fact that I am a chaplain  

and *this* is what I’m “called” to do.

It happened slowly and yet all at once with impromptu prayers, warm embraces, hand-holding, shared tears, and sweet laughs. It came in rooms; waiting rooms, pediatric rooms, nurses stations, ICU bays, hallways, in the basement conference room, and in my supervisor’s office. I was able to give it language I hadn’t thought of using before, I described this work as allowing me to be a vessel of compassion, to do the work of ministry in direct ways. There have also been times when words couldn’t describe this work and tears were the only thing that could; tears of joy, sorrow, happiness, frustration, confusion, and joy again.

Multiple emotions go into forming grief which in and of itself becomes one of our most intimate reactions to all sorts of issues you can imagine people are facing in a major trauma one university teaching hospital that also has a children’s hospital attached to it. When someone invites you, the chaplain and the stranger, into their grief, that is a sacred gift. The sacredness goes beyond any faith tradition or religious denomination, it crosses the barriers of race, class, and gender. That sacredness is something I as a chaplain can hold in space with you in your hurt and fear.

For me, a belief in God is not at the core of my ministry instead it’s a belief in our connected humanity. It does not mean I cannot find value in your belief and comfort you in ways you know and understand, it gives me a freedom to not be held back by harmful theologies and to give you in return the utmost compassion and care that comes straight from my heart and core of being. I also believe this calling as a chaplain allows me to hold people in light and love, to provide them with blessings and prayers that are not taught in books, but truly comes from the divine spark that we all share.

I am not certain of my path in a congregational setting, I am certain that right now I am loving the work and ministry of chaplaincy. I’ve just been accepted into a one year CPE residency program at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and I’m excited to see where this call will lead!