by Rev. Sara Lewis
As many of you know, I have recently been ordained by the Chaplaincy Institute as an Interfaith Chaplain. This was a two year seminary education and ordination process that included classwork in: global spiritual traditions, comparative theology, spiritual psychology, ministerial ethics, “ministry basics” (preaching, praying, etc), deep listening, being with death and dying, eco-stewardhsip and ministry, and prophetic witness for justice/movement chaplaincy. It was a lot, and it was as much about personal healing and formation and a deepening of my spiritual life as it was about acquisition of knowledge and skills.
But what is it all for? What is a chaplain, anyway? Here’s some of the frequent questions I’ve heard from you all:
What is a chaplain? How is that different from a minister?
The main difference is in setting and who you are oriented toward serving. A minister/pastor is based in a congregation or church, while a chaplain is based in a community/secular setting. For instance, you are probably familiar with the roles of chaplains in the military, hospitals, and prisons. A minister/pastor is serving a community that share common beliefs or values, while a chaplain is serving the needs of people whatever their beliefs and values include. I see the path of the chaplain as being that of tending to the spiritual in the secular, or how spiritual needs are still present for us in our lives when we are in times and places that haven’t been set aside as spiritual spaces. In this I am reminded of Unitarian religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs, who said “life becomes religious whenever we make it so”.
You’re ordained now, so are you a UU minister?
I’m not a UU minister, that’s another ministry path that involves becoming fellowshipped through the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee of the UUA. My ordination is through the Chaplaincy Institute and that is the spiritual community which will continue to renew my minister in good standing status annually (as long as I am in good standing, which I plan to be!). I have huge respect for UU ministers and ministry, but my path is a different one.
What does “Interfaith” mean?
Interfaith refers to anything that involves multiple faiths, and to be an Interfaith Chaplain is to be trained and prepared to serve the spiritual needs of people of any faith, including none. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own, personal, faith and it doesn’t mean that I am suddenly an expert in all faiths or that it would be appropriate for me to perform the rites of a particular faith. Some rituals and rites can only be performed by a person specifically ordained or otherwise authorized for that faith. But while I would not, for instance, perform a Catholic rite, I could talk with and pray with a Catholic in a way that respects their faith. My own sources of faith remain Unitarian Universalist, pagan, and religious naturalist.
How does this change things for you at OUUC?
I’m not going anywhere, and am quite happy with the fit between my call to ministry and my role here at OUUC. The main differences now are that I am bringing a deeper well of pastoral care and spiritual practice work to my role within OUUC, and that I can show up in the community at large as an ordained chaplain. That will change the way I show up in social justice spaces and to the community at large. I’ve got a collar and a stole and I may be out there witnessing and marching in that role!
Are you going to do any other “chaplaining”?
I plan to serve the wider community and the world in a few ways as a chaplain and spiritual director. One of those ways will be to tend to the spiritual needs of fellow religious professionals, particularly other religious educators. Another ministry that I feel very called to is to work with people around climate change anxiety and grief, and that could take various forms. And, that ministry work would be a small side ministry that I would add on to my existing ministry with OUUC.
Should we call you Reverend Sara now?
It is an honorific that I have earned and will embody, and I welcome you all to call me Rev Sara. I also know that you have known me as “Just Plain Sara” for a long time now, and it’s OK to continue calling me Sara as well.
Those are the questions I’ve heard recently, and my answers for now. Please feel free to keep asking!
And I want to extend a big Thank You to you all for the ordination party last Sunday. I felt very loved and celebrated, I so appreciated everyone who came and the cards and other gifts. And a special thank you to Pat Sonnenstuhl for organizing and getting cake to the Sewing Ministry for the beautiful stole.
In love and faith,