Medical Center chaplain honored for outstanding leadership
by Sherrie Norris
The award is given to an association member who exhibits outstanding dedication to the group and promotes professional chaplaincy through active involvement and initiative at the local or regional level, according to Rita Kaufman, spokeswoman for the APC.
Childers, director of pastoral care at Watauga Medical Center in Boone, is a board-certified chaplain with the APC and in 2002, was named the organization's' Chaplain of the Year.
From 2004-2007, Childers served on the board of directors for the APC and on the board of managers for the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling.
Since 2010, Childers has served as the area certification chairwoman for APC, organizing board certification committees for candidates in North Carolina and Virginia.
Childers, a resident of Vilas, described her work in that role as "a challenging and rewarding way to welcome new professionals to our organization and to give back to the institution that has helped raise the bar of professional chaplaincy across the country."
Kaufman said that Childers' calm, professional demeanor, attention to detail and excellent organizational skills are just a few reasons why she is a valued leader.
Chaplain J. Roy Moritz of Elizabeth City said Childers exemplifies the heart and soul of the chaplaincy vocation.
"She is accepting and respectful of all, and always ready to help in any way she can," Moritz said. "I am proud to have served with her."
Childers' award comes as no surprise to those at the local hospital who work with her on a daily basis, or to the countless patients and family members to whom she has ministered since coming to the medical center in 1998.
"We are fortunate that Melanie chooses to share her talents at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System," said Claire Cline, director of patient-care services. "The chaplaincy services she provides are a true blessing to our patients, their families and our employees. It is an honor to work with her."
A North Carolina native, Childers graduated summa cum laude from Mars Hill College in 1990 with a degree in mass communications and journalism. She received her master's of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in 1994.
Before entering professional chaplaincy, she worked as a writer and editor in Oklahoma and Kentucky. She became board certified by the APC in 2000 and is ordained and endorsed for chaplaincy through the United Church of Christ.
In 2009, she completed her master's degree in community counseling from Appalachian State University, and in 2011 became a licensed professional counselor.
Melanie said she knew since high school that she wanted to pursue some type of vocation in ministry.
"In college, I focused on a broad liberal arts degree, majoring in mass communications and minoring in music and English," she said, putting herself through seminary as a writer for denominational newspapers.
But, she said, the stress of covering denominational politics in a denomination that was closing its doors on women as ministers "was sapping the life out of me."
In 1995, she enrolled in her first experience of clinical pastoral education, which she described as a "life-changing, intensive and closely supervised training program for professional chaplains."
Through peer review and evaluation, encounters with suffering persons in the hospital setting and a sharp focus on individual skills and personality, she said it became a place where she learned a lot about her strengths and weaknesses and how to use herself as an instrument to help people in crisis.
Her clinical training also helped her realize the connections between chaplaincy and her own developing sense of faith.
"Chaplaincy is not limited to one particular religious tradition, or one denomination," she said, "but instead, it seeks to meet people wherever they are on life's journey, whether that includes institutional religion or not."
Childers said that spirituality refers to that "core dimension of our being that needs to belong, to make meaning of life, to develop ultimate values and to believe in something beyond ourselves."
"Spiritual care applies to all people, whether or not a person's spirituality is expressed through religion," she said. "I also believe that religious distinctions are not necessarily God ordained; people have created religions based on their own understanding of who God is."
"While we all seek the truth and have our own beliefs about where truth lies, none of us has the ultimate truth about religious and spiritual matters," Childers said. "We have to allow room for mystery, for the unknown, and for the continued work of the spirit in our lives."
Chaplains seek to meet people where they are, "without an agenda for leading them to a particular set of beliefs," she said. "As chaplain, my job is to walk alongside people through their unique circumstances, helping them to find ways that their spirit can best thrive."
Her work, she said, invites her to provide support, crisis intervention, spiritual care and gentle challenge to people who are hurting or encountering life-altering or life-threatening situations.
"Sometimes, when individuals face significant life challenges, they discover that their religious beliefs and world view no longer hold true for them," she said. "Some people become angry at God or feel that God has abandoned them. Others allow these difficult times to strengthen or completely transform their belief systems."
During those times, she said, it is not her role to defend God or religion, "especially not my own particular views about God and religion; the divinity certainly is powerful enough to take care of that without me."
Instead, she said, she is free to enter into other people's places of pain and suffering and joy and challenge "to be fully present with them, to bear witness to the strengths they bring to their life's challenges and to support them as they seek wholeness and peace."
She said she is a member of a strong, vibrant community of faith in the High Country, which provides her with great inspiration, spiritual challenge, and spiritual support.
But, when she enters a patient's room, it is not about her.
"It is about the individual on the stretcher or in the chemo treatment chair or in the surgery bay," she said.
"I am so thankful to Watauga Medical Center for valuing the role of spiritual care alongside all the other modalities of healing that take place in healthcare institutions," she said.
Marking her 15th year of employment at the facility this month, Childers said she continues to be inspired by the "remarkable strength and faith of patients, families,and staff at this facility."
It is her honor and sacred privilege, she said, to walk alongside them and to learn from their wisdom "even as I seek to provide solace and support during times of crisis."
Hospital chaplaincy "used to be provided by any ordained person who had a good heart and cared about people," she said. "As in all areas of healthcare, however, this discipline has steadily grown more specialized and more accountable. Professional chaplaincy now requires a year of training beyond the master of divinity degree and, often, board certification."
In its work, Childers said, the APC helps ensure that any person who provides spiritual care in a secular or interfaith setting will employ professional skills, offer sensitive respect, interact in nonjudgmental and supportive ways, and refrain from proselytizing.
"Chaplaincy draws on several disciplines, including theology, ethics, philosophy, and the behavioral sciences, to offer sensitive and supportive care," she said. "Chaplains seeking board certification have to meet strict educational, ethical and training standards, demonstrate competency in 29 professional categories, and meet with a committee of their peers."
Continuing to write, Childers' most recent article, "Holy Havoc: The Chaplain's Unique Role in Healing Spiritual Abuse," was published in the Autumn/Winter 2012 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Chaplaincy Today.