It sounds like the beginning of a joke. “A Muslim, a Jew, and a Catholic walk into a classroom…” Or, here at Claremont School of Theology, it sounds like the beginning of a dream–an Interfaith Chaplaincy program. This spring, our first graduating class of Interfaith Chaplaincy M.Div. students received their diplomas at Commencement. They were indeed, all joking aside, a Muslim, a Jew, and a Catholic. Here are their stories.
Mir Ali: Muslim
A military man. A Muslim. And now, a chaplain. Mir Ali had always been fascinated with learning about other faiths. While serving in the United States military, he decided to become a military chaplain. When searching for M.Div. programs for this, he was attracted to CST’s Interfaith Chaplaincy M.Div.
In the Interfaith Chaplaincy program, Mir says,
“I became a better listener, a better chaplain, and most importantly an ambassador of interfaith work comprehensively.”
He balanced academics with real-world experience, completing his first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), a requirement of the Interfaith Chaplaincy program, while he was also working in the military on active duty status.
The interfaith (as well as intra-faith) aspect of the program was important for Mir’s growth. He became a better spiritual caregiver – “one who would be a minister to some but a chaplain to all” – by learning how to teach about “respect for human dignity regardless of our religious differences.”
Now a graduate, Mir is serving as a military chaplain in the United States Air Force Reserves as well as doing a hospital chaplain residency. He plans to serve as a chaplain in the United States Armed Forces.
The Interfaith Chaplaincy M.Div., he says, is “unique from other M.Div.s because it’s designed for not only chaplains, ministers, and pastors–but also for people who are interested in making social, national, and global changes.”
Abbie Barash: Jewish
Abbie Barash, a young Jewish woman, has had a long interest in interfaith activism. Even before she came to Claremont School of Theology, she studied religion and did interfaith work. She didn’t discover chaplaincy, however, until she came to Claremont.
Originally an M.A. student, Abbie found herself drawn to the Interfaith Chaplaincy program. “I liked that it was hands-on and practical,” she says. Her spiritual care professors, she explains, “helped me with being empathetic and self-reflective.” Meanwhile, CPE was educational and affirmed her calling to chaplaincy. “Journeying with people while they’re in those situations. Not covering up those emotions. Exploring what it means to be alive and mortal–that’s what happens in those conversations,” she explains.
Abbie’s time at CST was also formative for her Jewish faith, allowing her to ask questions and engage with others of different faiths. Such questioning, Abbie says, allowed her to embrace her own Judaism–“a religion that’s about questioning and quarrelling and doubt.” At CST, Abbie realized that “having room to question allows you to learn about your own self and your tradition.” She also learned that chaplaincy is something that transcends religious barriers. “All people suffer,” Abbie says. “We all experience similar suffering. And we can have human-to-human connection, regardless of doctrine or belief.”
Freshly graduated from CST, Abbie is continuing down the path of chaplaincy, completing a year-long hospital chaplain residency. She hopes to become a board-certified chaplain and to explore different chaplaincy contexts. Down the road, she’s interested in combining her passion for spiritual care with other passions–such as those for the outdoors and for yoga–to engage in chaplaincy in non-traditional realms.
When asked what her advice might be for others, Abbie says,
“You won’t find anything else like this out there. The program speaks to so many different types of people, different paths, different traditions. It offers something different from a traditional M.Div. It’s beyond spiritual care or comparative religions; it’s all those and more.”
Jacqueline Trinkaus: Catholic
Jacqueline Trinkaus was raised, as she puts it, as “a cradle Catholic.” Before coming to Claremont School of Theology, she had worked as a physical therapist. However, she found herself craving something deeper. She started to consider chaplaincy, but she knew that she wanted a stronger interfaith understanding first.That need for interfaith knowledge is what brought Jacqueline to CST’s Interfaith Chaplaincy M.Div., where she was immersed in different religious traditions and in interreligious community. “There was interaction, respect, and love between the students, in all our diversity,” she says. “It felt like one big family, where we supported and encouraged each other.”
She learned a great deal about interfaith work from the program, saying, “It taught me that we don’t all have to come to agreement–that it’s okay to celebrate differences instead of downplaying or whitewashing them. I learned to find the beauty in each tradition, and to realize that even within traditions, there are different practices, beliefs, and theologies.”
Indeed, Jacqueline also deepened her own faith within her own tradition. “Seminary was like boot camp,” she laughs. “It almost strips you of your identity and beliefs, so that you can take them down and build them back up again.” Before coming to CST, she had never spent much time questioning her faith or understanding it intellectually. Yet as a student, she found herself doubting. Now, though, she says,
“My faith is stronger. It had to be broken down in order to understand why and what I believe. I found joy again in my faith, and I have a deeper, richer spirituality than I started with.”
Now that she has graduated, Jacqueline wants to pursue hospice chaplaincy. Being a chaplain is an empowering role for her, she explains. “Since I’m a woman and Catholic, I can’t be ordained, but with chaplaincy, I can go out and minister. Chaplaincy is how I want to live my faith.”