By Kirsten Hancock
There are things you don’t know you need until you have them. Things like automatic garage door openers, luggage with wheels, and Spanx.
In 2019, I attended my first Alliance of Baptists’ chaplain retreat in Washington, DC.
I did not know how badly I needed to connect with other like-minded chaplains until I experienced those connections. When the Alliance chaplains gathered in Atlanta for our retreat in April 2023, we had not been together in four years.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, I found great comfort through my CAIRN group of fellow female ministers (We call ourselves the “Stole Sisters”) and monthly Zoom check-ins with Alliance chaplains nationwide. Still, there was no in-person opportunity for us to meet until Atlanta.
I am blessed to be a chaplain endorsed by the Alliance of Baptists. Ministry can be an island. Those of us who work full-time in pastoral care benefit greatly from opportunities to fellowship with one another.
The retreat was an opportunity to remove, reconnect, reflect, and find respite and restoration.
We removed ourselves from our physical settings to move into a different environment. The daily routine of driving to a hospital or counseling office or making rounds to homes and rehabs with the sick and dying takes a mental and emotional toll. Chaplains must remove themselves from their routines and retreat from ministry settings and daily routines. What a blessing to turn off our phones for a few hours, be present in space, and seek retreat in solidarity.
Time for reflection was part of our retreat. We reflected on the ministry we do. We reflected on the pastoral care we provide for our patients, families, and employees. More importantly, we reflected on where we were emotionally in the moment and in our respective lives. Sharing openly and honestly about real-time reflection benefited everyone and was cathartic.
We reconnected with other Alliance chaplains from across the country who experience the same valleys and mountains we do daily. We welcomed new faces into the group and made new connections—new friends. A chaplain’s mission field is the church outside of the church building. Usually, there are not large professional networks nearby, and the ones we do have are not necessarily people who share similar theology. Reconnecting with fellow Alliance chaplains was a joy, and we especially needed this time in person after being away from one another for four years. The hugs and smiles were life-giving.
Ministry can be an island. Those of us who work full-time in pastoral care benefit greatly from opportunities to fellowship with one another. The retreat was an opportunity to remove, reconnect, reflect, and find respite and restoration.
In hospice, caregivers can request a five-day respite every 30 days. This is invaluable for full-time caregivers nursing loved ones 24/7 in their homes. Respite is desperately needed for people who forfeit a whole night’s sleep to be available to care for others. Chaplains have on-call times and lives outside of ministry which require time and energy. The respite from these responsibilities is priceless. Chaplains need respite, a break from the grind.
The retreat leaders guided us in finding restorative space together and individually. We wrote down things we could set aside for a day. It was a beautiful day in Atlanta, so we walked around the nearby park. We washed away worries and self-doubts on rice paper that we stirred into the water until they dissolved. We had art centers and essential oils, labyrinths, and chair yoga. Our retreat allowed us to find restoration on our terms, time, and space.
I love listening to sound baths. Tibetan singing bowls became part of my spiritual practice during the COVID lockdown. The retreat was the first time I heard a sound bath in a room with others. The collective release and reset were palpable and refreshing.
We also shared a beautiful time breathing and practicing mindfulness together when we did Tai Chi. After an afternoon of sharing and activities, we reflected on what parts of the day we hoped to take back into our self-care as chaplains.
The wonderful thing about Alliance endorsed chaplaincy is that the support goes on year-round. Retreats are beautiful and necessary, but we have monthly opportunities to connect via Zoom for an hour to talk about where we are and what is happening with each of us.
I am grateful for the Alliance’s network and intentionality of supporting me in my ministry profession. I do not know another denomination that provides so many spaces for ongoing reflection and restoration.
Rev. Kirsten Hancock lives in San Antonio, TX. She is a hospice chaplain endorsed by the Alliance of Baptists working at Amedisys Hospice. Kirsten serves as an Associate Minister at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and Board Member of Fletcher Seminary. She is pursuing her Doctor of Ministry degree at George W. Truett Theological Seminary’s satellite campus in San Antonio.
If you are interested in endorsement through the Alliance, you can learn more here on our website.