Roads less traveled: Alumni/ae called to range of ministries

03-30-2010 by

Geoff Ashmun
While the majority of McCormick graduates fulfill their calls in church settings, many take roads less traveled

As a service to its students, McCormick recently offered a daylong series of panel discussions featuring alumni/ae serving in “specialized ministries” so that students understand the range of options available to those earning masters degrees at McCormick.

Participants included the Rev. Connie Leininger (M.Div. Class of 1984), Educator at Prison Ministry for Will County Jail; Rev. Julie Delezenne (M.Div. Class of 2007), Community and Congregational Relations Coordinator for The Night Ministry; Craig Howard (M.Div., Class of 1995, D.Min., Class of 2010), Senior Development Officer at McCormick and part-time designated pastor; Carol Allen, independent spiritual advisor; Rev. Kurt Esslinger (M.Div. Class of 2008), Campus Minister, Agape House, University of Illinois at Chicago; Rev. Denise Plair (M.Div. Class of 2007), Hospice Chaplain at Family Home Health/Family Centered Hospice; Joellen Hosler (M.Div. Class of 1992), Pastoral Counselor, Limina Institute at St. James Presbyterian Church, Chicago.

Even before entering McCormick, Jeanne Hale (M.Div., Class of 2006) knew she was not called to serve in a church. Having worked in electrical engineering for several years, she felt God calling her to something like social work, but that image of herself gainfully employed on the other side of her studies was a bit fuzzy.

That began to change during the summer between her middler and senior years at McCormick, when she had the opportunity to work at Montgomery Place, a retirement community in Hyde Park, to complete her first unit of clinical pastoral education (CPE). Her experience then and during the following summer on the community’s newly built assisted living floor sparked her interest in pastoral care. Still unsure about her precise call, she finished her CPE requirements that fall at Rush Memorial Hospital in Chicago and served as a chaplain in its oncology units.

Then she received a call from Dr. Robert Petit, Senior Chaplain and Executive Director of the CPE Center at Montgomery Place, who was looking for someone who could serve as a part-time chaplain and train to become a CPE supervisor.

“I was really excited about that opportunity,” Hale said. Now in her third year in the community, she is winding down her training toward becoming an associate CPE supervisor and feels at home in her role working with CPE students and as a chaplain on the assisted living and nursing care floors. She has been working with five students from Chicago-area seminaries, one of whom is McCormick’s own Katie Miller.

“I really enjoy working with the students, watching them grow and learn about themselves and pastoral care. It’s really interesting work for all of us, because every day presents something different, and the residents here are some remarkable people. We have retired University of Chicago professors, lawyers, doctors and people who have really seen the world.”

Among Jeanne’s pastoral responsibilities are leading a Bible study and leading worship, which necessarily run a bit differently than a Sunday church service because of very practical health considerations. And to make matters even more interesting, the largest, most engaged faith group at Montgomery Place is Jewish.

“Yeah, they’re really the ones who are the most curious and come out to the Bible Studies,” Hale said. “Most of the people I work with have alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, so we want to be respectful of people who aren’t able to talk about their faith traditions anymore or who may not want to participate but can’t express it in so many words. So we don’t really do sermons. We’re really focused on songs, reading scripture, and keeping them stimulated. It’s really rewarding work.”