Conversation Circles in speech bubble on left, six diverse faces on right
By Aja Antoine

Just shy of a month ago, the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab (CIL) launched the first in a series of Conversation Circles for Chaplains of Color as part of our work with the Fetzer Institute to support and build networks for spiritual care providers.

And in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial reckoning, and the legacies of racial violence, we determined that our first circles in this pilot will honor and support the work that chaplains of color do to provide spiritual care for individuals and challenge racial structures. 

What does this look like? Through the spring, we will host ten conversation circles of up to ten participants on Zoom, each co-facilitated by pairs of chaplains of color. The circles will offer accompaniment by creating space for connection, reflection, collaboration, and perspective-taking, along with sharing and centralizing resources.

In our survey of registrants, we learned that seventy-three percent of the more than 100 chaplains who registered identify as Black or African American, so in addition to circles for chaplains of color, we are offering conversation circles for those with common racial and ethnic identities. The first affinity circles were created for African American/Black facilitators and participants, and we will organize more of them based on demand.

These Conversation Circles are one of three interrelated CIL initiatives to name, honor, and support chaplains of color. Each arose from conversations organized in the fall of 2020 with chaplains of color working in a range of settings and geographic locations.

Our second initiative will be an interview- and archival-based research project, “Race, Ethnicity and the Work of Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care” with Dr. Barbara D. Savage. Through interviews with Black chaplains in the United States and historical analysis of newspaper archives from the 20th century to the present, the project will explore and synthesize the work people of color have done as chaplains over time, articulating challenges and opportunities from the past to the present. This work will form the basis for further support and action.

Our third initiative supporting chaplains of color will take the form of a free online conference focusing on the expertise, compassion, and care chaplains of color bring to their work; their experiences as people of color in this work; and opportunities for everyone to unite in action around disparities in access to spiritual care. We have seeded this work with a list of existing resources for chaplains of color and our commitment to expand them. Lab staff are thrilled to collaborate with Rev. Marilyn J. D. Barnes, Rev. Kirstin C. Boswell Ford, and Dr. Asha Shipman in this effort.

To learn more about the work of chaplaincy in today’s world, I invite you to check out CIL’s series THIS Is What a Chaplain Looks Like.

Aja Antoine is a research associate at the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab. She is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. She spends her free time reading novels and would love to write one someday.

Aja Antoine serves with the following advisors to the Conversation Circles for Chaplains of Color.

Rev. Marilyn J. D. Barnes MS, MA, MPH, BCC is a vice president of mission and spiritual care in the Advocate Aurora Healthcare System and is an associate minister at Cathedral of Grace St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Aurora, Illinois. “Rev. Marilyn,” as she is affectionately called, believes in journeying with others as companion, guide, and friend. 

Rev. Kirstin C. Boswell Ford, MDiv, is the associate dean of student support services at Brown University. She holds a Master of Divinity from The University of Chicago Divinity School where she is also completing her PhD. Her writing focuses on womanist theology and analyzing the call narratives of African American clergywomen. 

Wendy Cadge, PhD, is the Barbara Mandel Professor of Humanistic Social Sciences and professor of sociology at Brandeis University. She is also the founder and director of the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and camping with her family in New England.

Barbara D. Savage, PhD, is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought in the Department of Africana Studies of the University of Pennsylvania. In her free time, she enjoys many kinds of music and aggressive gardening.

Asha Shipman, PhD, is the director of Hindu Life and Hindu Chaplain for Yale University. She is the chair of the newly formed North American Hindu Chaplains Association. In her free time, she enjoys playing Scrabble and piecing together jigsaw puzzles with her kids, growing exuberant patio plants, birdwatching, and, for now, off-setting her chocolate chip cookie intake by attending virtual gym classes. 


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The Chaplaincy Innovation Lab sparks practical innovation in spiritual care.