The Words of the Ferrantello Family

God Guided Me to Become a Chaplain

Donna Ferrantello
August 2010

Reverend Dr. Ferrantello is a UTS MDiv. with a Ph.D. in Theological Studies. She is a Fulbright Specialist Overseas Scholar for Peace, an Ambassador for Peace and a Resident Chaplain at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY. She lives in Tarrytown N.Y. with her husband, Anthony, and their blessed daughter.

While discussing Alumni Relations at the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS), President Dr. Richard Panzer asked for this testimony to be shared with Unification Church members and our present and future UTS students. UTS now has a Chaplaincy program which places students in the growing field of Clinical Pastoral Counseling.

Whether young or old, we sometimes don't know what God wants us to do. I felt this way after moving to New York several years ago: the job market was tight, church leadership was tight; and my adjunct teaching at University of Bridgeport was too long a commute.

With many ministry experiences, skills and talents, what did God want from me, other than my church and UTS-alumni volunteer work? While praying about this, I knew that I had to get out into the community and find God's guidance through give-and-take, not just prayer.

I was inspired to hear Rev. Hyung Jin Moon's testimony that he began his Seoul church ministry by rising early in the morning to visit and love the children who were in a nearby hospital. Before joining our church in 1977, I loved working with handicapped children in Easter Seal Camps and daycare centers. Why not do what I enjoy? So, in February 2009, I began to volunteer again -- this time at Phelps Hospital as a "Patient Representative" in the orthopedic unit. In this role, I simply provided a listening ear, empathy and encouragement to patients who shared their stories and feelings about being in the hospital. On some visits, adult patients asked: "Will you pray for me?"

One day I shared with the director of volunteers how meaningful these experiences were for the patient and for me. She recommended that I get to know some of the chaplains in the hospital, and she arranged for me to sit with a group of chaplains at the annual volunteer banquet. Some chaplains were senior citizens or ministers whose churches made them "Eucharistic ministers" for this hospital work. But other chaplains I met were ministers who had trained in Clinical Pastoral Counseling Education programs (CPE) to become certified chaplains, in this growing ministry profession.

In my prayer, I asked God: "Is this where you are guiding me?" My answer came from prayer and my patients who responded to who I am. They immediately sensed that my heart was very sincere and deeply compassionate; they felt understood and comforted. They confided in me their painful stories as well as their joys, hopes and needs for spiritual direction.

Why Chaplaincy?

For those who are curious or who may want to consider becoming a chaplain, you may ask: "What is a chaplain?" There are different chaplain roles, for example: a prison chaplain, a military chaplain, a police chaplain, a hospital chaplain and even some corporate chaplains. A hospital chaplain is a minister and/or faith representative who cares for people who are suffering from medical-health situations. The essential qualification to be a chaplain is HEART.

Compassion is a mind that [seeks to comfort] the suffering that is present in the other. The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material and psychological [spiritual] suffering of others, to put ourselves "inside the skin" of the other.... Compassion means, literally, "to suffer with." -- Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, pp. 66-67

Second, in order to focus on the patient's needs and be "fully present" to another, the chaplain needs to center on God and/or the center of her/his faith being. As a minister who also is a wife and mother, this focus is a blessing for my life and family too. We all need to make this our center, as we are "central blessed families." Third, a chaplain needs to practice listening skills and learn how to identify feelings and needs of the other. As a woman with an intuitive gift, sensing feelings in others and groups has been my God-given quality that I have been aware of even when I was a little girl. (My father used to call me the "ESP" kid.) Chaplaincy sharpens the ability to not only "sense" feelings, but to learn the art of asking questions that draw out a person's own expression of her/his experience. Fourth, the chaplain comforts, encourages and/or shares resources which aid a person to not only cope or endure with a medical challenge, but to strengthen her/his faith and approach to spirituality.

Fulfilling an Unexpected Blessing from CPE

Since I already graduated from the UTS Master's of Divinity program and had done ministry work for many years, I easily qualified and was accepted at Westchester Medical Center CPE training for professional Chaplains which started in September 2009. (However, a chaplain intern does not have to have an MDiv. degree to be trained; he/she just needs to have studied Bible, theology and ministry and/or be in the process of obtaining an MDiv.) CPE is where my journey into Chaplaincy began -- and where God surprised me with so many unexpected blessings. First, I found myself surrounded by ministers of all different faith backgrounds in the Chaplaincy Department of this large medical center: Rabbi, Imam, Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister, etc. We all had a common goal to share together in our work: to serve those who were suffering. We were one Interfaith Ministry.

I recalled Rev. In Jin Moon's testimony about "natural witnessing" -- and, right here, God guided me to be in a place where people would know me for "who I am" in the natural process of working together on a common goal. We also spent our lunch hour together in the hospital cafeteria and met once a week for a 4-hour seminar to discuss our experiences. What a blessing for a UTS grad to finally have a professional role in ministry! What a blessing for a woman minister, such as myself, actually to have colleagues to share and discuss our ministries together! Our team used an "Action: Reflection Model" of discussing our experiences and learning modes with each other. My team had two Protestant women ministers, one New Seminary Interfaith woman minister, two Roman Catholic Priests and myself, a Unificationist Interfaith minister.

Another unexpected blessing from CPE was learning that the training process also can involve healing for the chaplain, not just for the patient. When a patient's painful experiences "trigger" a memory within a chaplain's painful past, the chaplain has the space within the team to share that memory and process it toward healing closure. In this way, a trained chaplain learns to deal with residual pain or grieving; by being able to deal with our own painful moments better, they won't be pressing on us next time we meet a patient with a similar experience. For example, when my sister-in-law died following experimental chemotherapy treatments for cancer, the extended family would not discuss her dying or death together. It was difficult for me to deal with this lack of sharing among them. In my CPE training, I met several cancer patients who reminded me of my sister-in-law. During my team sessions, I was able to face my painful memories and alleviate the need to deal with my own cancer experience.

God has a plan before we recognize it

An amazing memory came to me during the end of my first year of chaplaincy. Before moving to New York, I had a recurring dream which I could not understand at the time. In my dream, I was a minister joining with other ministers in the chapel of an institution, which I thought was a seminary or a college. We were there as colleagues to work and to learn together. I remember asking, "Is this a seminary that I am returning to?" No, I thought, it is not UTS/Barrytown, and I am not a student in the dream. I am a minister, healing and teaching others. As with many dreams, I did not do anything about it and even forgot it. Later, when moving to the New York area, I pursued teaching jobs instead. This year, at the hospital, surrounded by ministers at a chaplaincy meeting, I vividly remembered the dream, Aha! GOD HAD A PLAN... all along. And, this summer, 2010, I was awarded a full- time, paid Hospital Chaplain Residency for September 2010-2011. Thank you, Heavenly Father! [Heavenly Mother!] 

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