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Alumna Navigates Chaplaincy and OCD during COVID-19

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.
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For 2019 Claremont School of Theology M.Div. alumna Erin Grasse, her love for chaplaincy, which began taking root during her first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) last September, took her a bit by surprise.

Claremont School of Theology is one of the 13 United Methodist seminaries supported by the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment of the United Methodist Church.

Although she was interested in chaplaincy, Erin originally sought out CPE primarily because it was an ordination requirement in The United Methodist Church (UMC). But when she heard Bayan alumnae discuss some of their experiences in her Vocational Praxis course, she began wondering if chaplaincy was going to mean more to her than just fulfilling a professional requirement. “Hearing all the chaplains share their experiences, I thought, I need that,” Erin explained. “It was definitely a Holy Spirit tug.”

Working in the hospital, she quickly realized how much she enjoyed the open-ended nature of the theological contexts she was entering and the importance of theological flexibility.

Part of the reason that enjoyment of ambiguity feels surprising to Erin is because of her own anxiety, especially in terms of having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which, for her, manifests in contamination and harm obsessions.

When COVID-19 hit the United States, hospital protocols shifted drastically, with Erin and her cohort caring for patients and their loved ones by phone call.

The pandemic, of course, has also changed the way people in general relate to contamination and harm, and that has involved a learning curve for Erin.

“Suddenly it was like my OCD wasn’t just inside my head anymore. It was disorienting to have so many people suddenly doing so many behaviors that I did that were previously considered excessive.

Crucial in this process was her therapist who helped her sort through her thoughts and behaviors in this pandemic context. “It was because of CPE that I sought out my new OCD therapist because I realized I didn’t have a lot of anxiety management tools, which was really impacting what I was doing.”

Because of her own experiences with mental illness stigma, Erin explained that she’s not put off or scared by patient anxiety in the hospital. For instance, when patients are experiencing suicidal thoughts, “I’m familiar with the intensity of it…Being in a suicidal place is scary…It should be handled with care, but we can still handle it. We don’t have to poke it with a stick from afar.”

Some people look at the challenges Erin faces in the hospital because of her and ask “why are you here, if it’s so hard for you?” 

“Because it’s so many of the confluences of what I love!” she explained, citing the never-ending journey of learning what chaplaincy entails. Bringing people joy, letting people know that they are not alone and that someone sees them and hears them—that is really its own reward. I connect best to God in motion. And that’s really what chaplaincy is.

Claremont School of Theology website, Claremont, CA

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Ministerial Education Fund is at the heart of preparing people for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The 13 United Methodist seminaries help students to discover their calling through the challenging curriculum. The fund enables the church to increase financial support for recruiting and educating ordained and diaconal ministers and to equip annual conferences to meet increased demands. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment at 100 percent.