The Role of an Eco-Chaplain

Chaplains, it turns out, are often asked to find words for the unsavory parts of a story and here’s the deal:  RIGHT NOW, on planet Earth – our one home - it is ONE species, one tiny genus in the mammal family ( the humans! ) whose current behaviors and choices,  whose systems and policies are creating system-wide suicide. 

Therefore the, “Eco.” in Eco-Chaplain is less and less about the Ecology of our planet, and evermore urgently about the Ecology of ourselves and the inter-dependent relationships with our fellow species.  This is HARD work; it requires steady, sustained spiritual practice and here’s the REALLY important part:  it’s only going to work if we all share the story. 

But let’s not forget that Chaplains are also challenged to look for hope and healing, particularly in the face of despair and, “no-cure.”

In my work as an Eco-chaplain, I’ve discovered and begun to share a three-fold practice I believe to be helpful as we endeavor to truly listen for Earth’s guidance and to meet the increasing challenges we face.  I share these practices as lavishly as I’m able in my writing and speaking engagements, of course, and perhaps more importantly in the steady flow of ordinary moments I am gifted with every single day.  The practices involve love, intimacy and vulnerability.  The practices depend upon patience, honesty, and courage. Remember, that bit about chaplains speaking to the unsavory ?

Our growth economy model is broken.  The pop-story suggests the ONLY alternative will mean living a life of scarcity and lack.  So where, O Eco-Chaplain, is the hope and healing?

Our new story is rooted in Regenerative Humility.   With care and practice, with support from our communities, we can source from a place that’s creative…and even regenerative!   I call it God.  Regenerative Humility keeps me curious, and forces intimacy; it frees me to move and act without the guarantee of success. 

My friends, we are human mammals who create.  Our life depends on it.  WHAT we create is part of the story we’re reconstructing.  Reinventing our economy and other systems will take coaches, visionaries, career counselors, bereavement specialists, and lots and lots of chaplains!!!  There are LOTS of us, and the Divine is ready for each one of our co-creative acts to set the story back on course. 


Meet the Rev. Lauren Van Ham, M. A.

Lauren.jpgLauren was born and raised beneath the big sky of the Midwest. She was in the first cohort of ChI ordinands in 1999 and completed the Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certificate Course in 2006.  Following her ordination, Lauren served as a staff chaplain at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco, where she specialized in adolescent psychiatry, palliative care and bereavement support, and began the Environmental Action Team, incorporating more sustainable practices for patients, families and medical staff.

Between 2004-2006, Lauren served as Executive Director for Green Sangha, a nonprofit organization practicing spiritually-engaged environmental activism.   It was during these years that Lauren discerned a refining Call in her life:  to live, work and move more overtly from the place where spirituality and ecology co-exist.  In 2007, with necessary naiveté and determination, Lauren left healthcare chaplaincy to enter corporate America, and to work at Saatchi & Saatchi S, a sustainability consultancy in San Francisco. She was a member of the founding team that designed and facilitated hundreds of day-long sustainability workshops for people employed by a range of Fortune 1000 clients.  As a Director of Consulting Services, Lauren readily acknowledged her role as minister while she combined her passion and skills to custom-design curriculum and facilitate trainings to increase awareness, encourage behavior change and build new bridges between the inner/outer ecology of individuals and organizations, one person at a time.

Integrating her professional work with her commitment to interfaith spirituality and eco-justice, Lauren sought endorsement from The Chaplaincy Institute to claim a new ministry.  In June, 2007, she renewed her ordination vows and professed herself an Eco-Chaplain.

In the Spring of 2014, Lauren bicycled 485 miles across the state of Nebraska to increase Climate Change awareness and to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, slated to run directly through the land of her childhood.  She is featured in Renewal, an award-winning documentary, celebrating the efforts of religious environmental activists in seven groups from diverse faith traditions across America.  Lauren chairs Fair Trade Berkeley, a group whose dedication in 2011 helped make Berkeley, CA, the 19th Fair Trade Town in the U.S. In early 2015, her essay, “Way of the Eco-Chaplain” was included in University of Waterloo, professor emeritus, M. Darrol Bryant’s, Ways of the Spirit: Voices of Women, a compilation of interfaith essays.  Lauren holds degrees and certificates from Carnegie Mellon University, Naropa University, and The Chaplaincy Institute (ChI).


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