The Education of a Chaplain

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Rebecca Nappi in the chaplains’ on-call room at Rush (Tony Wadden photo)

By Rebecca Nappi

From September to December, I took a sabbatical from my real life as a journalist at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., and I moved to Chicago and completed a 12-week internship in chaplaincy at Rush University Medical Center. Aging experts predict that some baby boomers, like me, who are now in their 50s will work at “encore careers” in their 60s and 70s, lured there by financial necessity and/or unfulfilled callings.

In the mid-1990s, I first heard a subtle call to chaplaincy. My brother-in-law and father died within two years of one another, and family members gathered for weeklong vigils at their death beds. It was sacred time, and in an editorial board meeting at the newspaper 17 years ago, I blurted out: “I’m going to be a hospital chaplain someday.” I finished the theology master’s degree required for it in 2003, and this fall completed one of four required “units” of clinical pastoral education, which combine class work and practical experience. I’ll complete the other units in the future. Unlike most professions, age is a plus in chaplaincy work.

The second week at Rush, a cab driver, noting my chaplain ID, inquired about the program. I explained the requirements. He seemed surprised. “Why does it take so much education and training just to be a chaplain?”

“It’s harder than it looks,” I said.

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