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As our bus pulled up to the painted white, concrete wall, about 30 high school and young adults poured out into the muddy road. There was excitement, nervous energy, and mostly curiosity. We didn’t yet know what or who waited for us on the other side of that wall.Our leader tried to prepare us, as he handed out goggles - he explained, “Your going to experience blindness for the next 24 hours.” He gave us these ski-like goggles that had been styled in such a way that nothing - not even light was visible through them.
Before I had time to object we were walking forward, clutching the shoulders of the person in front of us and trusting that somewhere there was indeed someone leading that line of curious journeyers. I’ll never forget what happened next - we heard singing, not that we could recognize the words. But the melody was clear, peaceful, and welcoming. It grew louder as we walked on.
Then I felt what I thought was rain - soft, but sweet and gentle. The fragrance of jasmine was inescapable. The children of Bobbilli school for the blind, in southern India, had prepared a welcome reception for us. We couldn’t see it, but on either side, they were lined up, singing to us, welcoming us, and showering us with beautiful, jasmine blossoms.
For the next 24 hours we were all blind. We were all relying on each other. It turns out the blind leading the newly blind, isn’t so bad after all.
They welcomed and walked us into a large room, it was loud and overwhelming at first. The children wanted us to play games together - tag, catch, and other games with movement - that would have been so much easier if we were able to see! Nothing is more nerve-wracking than to be completely blind, in a new space, with loud noises around you … balls bouncing, children running, and objects flying past your head! They knew every inch of this school, where walls were, stairs, windows, doors. They had it memorized - and they felt so safe, and wanted us to join in the joy. We were too preoccupied by the dangers and potential bruising.
And at some point, you must choose whether to join the laughter and joy happening around you, and to trust those voices of Guides you cannot see… or to sit still and miss the life happening around you. For 24 hours, these blind children led us in games, taught us how to eat, run, laugh, and play. But mostly, they taught us how to TRUST.
Now more than ever, our world needs GUIDES who know what its like to be told, ‘you’re different’, who know what its like to feel ‘handicapped’, Guides who know all those restrictions - and yet CHOOSE JOY ANYWAY. The children of Bobbilli knew they were blind, but they also knew there was still so much more they COULD do.
We are so convinced of this at ChI that we’ve made it our mission to grow people who not only know what they can’t do, but live the resounding message - THERE IS STILL SO MUCH MORE I CAN DO. Yes, I may have blindspots, but I can still see so much JOY! We believe so strongly in this, that its our mission to heal and transform the world - by creating community where everyone is welcome, showered with hope, and led into transforming joy. Yes, there are things WE CAN’T DO, BUT THERE IS STILL SO MUCH WE CAN DO - on cement sidewalks, at death beds, in moments of calm or crisis. With people just like you and me.
These students have heard that calling and have responded - you have been part of that journey, you have seen the struggle, heartache, tension, and joy. And I’m asking you to continue in that journey with these spiritual directors and ministers - as they fulfill their calling. As they wrestle with how to communicate love, peace, and justice, and be present in every situation. These students have been prepared for this day by a unique organization. The Chaplaincy Institute was created in 1999 with a mission to foster healing and peace through interfaith education and ministry formation. What makes this possible is the ongoing financial commitment of our donors. Your support enables us to hire the finest guest and core faculty, creates access to financial assistance, and helps ChI to advocate, collaborate, and innovate with others in the chaplaincy and interfaith movements.
Yes there are things we’ can’t do, but there is still so much WE CAN DO - If that’s your desire, I invite you to join us in that mission now. I invite those who will be collecting the offering to come forward at this time. If that’s your desire, to be a guide, a safe space, and to partner with us in that mission of leading people in to safe spaces, I invite you to give generously.
He looked into my eyes, almost piercing to my soul.
Through his thick, matted, dark brown beard with silver highlights he spoke in a broken British-Indian accent.
I had to focus. Not only to understand his words - but their meaning.
The Granthi led me through the Gudwara, explaining my heritage as though I was a tourist… which didn’t offend me, because until then I’d only experienced Hispanic Catholicism and versions of fundamental-ism or no-ism.
We traveled from room to room, and familiar fragrances of curry, ghee, and warm lentils filled my nostrils.
I felt the cool bare tile under my feet as we climbed upstairs to the very top of the building and right into the white bulbous room on the roof! I felt like an exotic dignitary, transported to Birmingham, England, of all places. As we entered the tiny sacred temple atop the Gudwara, my uncle Babegee leaned over and whispered - “Jessie, even I’ve never been up here!” His eyes danced with excitement. I knew this was a big deal.
We entered the room, almost all white interior. A few spots of color - sacred cloth, holy book, a pillow or two. The Granthi invited me in, looked into my eyes and challenged me.
“Who are you?”
"Uh, ah, ppp-pastor, minister, almost 7 years now." I coughed up the words.
“Who are you?” he asked again
“Christian?” As though I was asking him, not really sure.
He looked into my eyes, almost piercing to my soul and said
“BE WHO YOU ARE”
"Be who you are. If you are Christian, love like your Christ. Do not try to be something else. Do not say you are one thing and be another. BE WHO YOU ARE."
It’s been almost 12 years ago, I visited my extended Sikh family in Birmingham, England and we journeyed to the Nishkam Gudwara. Those words have followed me, invited me, challenged me, to live in alignment with who I really am. Beyond a title, beyond a stole.
It’s time for these students to be who they are - you have been part of that journey, you have seen the struggle, heartache, tension, and joy. And I’m asking you to continue in that journey with these spiritual directors and ministers - as they fulfill their calling.
These 21 students have been prepared for this day by a unique organization. The Chaplaincy Institute was created in 1999 with a mission to foster healing and peace through interfaith education and ministry formation. To create a place for people who don't fit in a box, where those people can come and learn, and in a safe place, BE WHO THEY ARE.
BE WHO YOU ARE - If that’s your desire, to live in alignment with your true self I invite you to join us in that mission, of creating space for anyone who longs for this same thing.
What makes this possible is the ongoing financial commitment of our donors. Your support enables us to hire the finest guest and core faculty to educate, inspire and transform students. Your generosity also ensures that current and future students will have access to financial assistance and that we have the ability to support this Community beyond today. Your financial gifts also make it possible for ChI to advocate, collaborate, and innovate with others in the chaplaincy and interfaith movements.
It's time. This is your day. BE WHO YOU ARE.
By Joshua Lichterman
Today, I want to speak with you about a very important topic: How we, as students, can help bring ChI to a sustainable level of financial stability.
First, I would like to tell you why I believe I am able to help you understand the roles we might play to help attain this goal. I have had the good fortune to attend three very small, progressive institutions of higher education and one large, public university.
I graduated from Goddard College, a tiny progressive liberal arts college located in Vermont. Goddard had 300 students when I arrived, 500 by the time I graduated in 1969. (I know, some of you probably had not even been born yet). Goddard had no endowment and was, therefore, totally tuition driven. In a given semester, if enrollment dropped by 25 students, President Pitkin had to make up the difference by visiting his “Friends of the College” or consider who on the staff or faculty was going to be laid off.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I served on the Goddard College Board of Trustees. When I joined the Board, the College was nearly going bankrupt. Within a year, we managed to urge the sitting President to resign, performed a national search, and hired a new President who brought the College’s finances back into the black, still without any endowment assistance.
I can assure you that academic administrators—Presidents, Provosts, Deans, Executive Directors, etc., would be more comfortable with their jobs if they could focus most of their energies on academic planning, human resource enrichment, and student recruitment. Sadly, if they are constantly looking over their shoulders fearing the budgetary ax. they are much more likely to suffer depression and burnout and depression.
I came to California in 1969 to attend UC Berkeley as a graduate student. I earned a Masters of City Planning in 1971 and a Doctorate in Contingency Planning for Disasters in 1983. When I arrived, the 9 UC campuses still received the majority of their funding from the State of California. In the years since, there has been a steady decline in State contributions to UC budgets. As a result, the system-wide administration and the individual campuses have been forced to create development programs.
Between 2008-13 the “Campaign for Berkeley” raised over $3 billion from over 275,000 donors. In January of 2015, I became a seminary student in the M.Div. program at Starr King, and was at the same time accepted in the ChI joint program. Starr King and ChI are much closer in size and level of financial insecurity to Goddard then they are to UC Berkeley. There are other similarities such as the lack of letter grades, small class sizes, lack of constrictive academic structure, etc., that have allowed me to feel at home and secure in these two schools.
Starr King and ChI would like to increase the diversity of their student bodies, but do not have sufficient income from endowments or budget flexibility to provide full scholarships for recruiting the students they would like to attract. Given the extremely high cost of living in the Bay Area, a full scholarship would have to include housing, food, transportation, books, health care, etc., rather than merely offering free tuition. This kind and level of support is necessary if SKSM and ChI want to be able to compete for highly qualified and diverse students with programs such as Harvard and Yale Divinity schools. Both of these two universities have enormous endowments.
Yet, even with the considerably tighter and restricted budgets, these two small seminaries provide their students with a remarkably rich and innovative curriculum that leads to ordination and participation in interesting and diverse ministries upon graduation. Starr King has a small endowment of $5.7 million. All but a tiny portion of this endowment is permanently restricted to providing income for student scholarships and faculty and staff operations.
ChI was founded 17 years ago. Due to limited financial resources, “ChI has had a very operational focus.” (ChI Web Page) “ChI has been using all tuition, fees, and donations to operate each year. The academic leadership and faculty of ChI came to work here as they felt and continue to feel called to do this work. They could and have made significantly more in salary and benefits in previous jobs in both the non-profit and corporate worlds.
At the moment, ChI, has no endowment. In 2015, ChI’s total revenue was about $600,000. Tuition received totaled just under $400,000 (65%) and donations totaled just over $200,000 (35%). Approximately $58,000 was in kind/services, not cash. $151,000 was cash donations given by 146 donors. These donors included 15 staff/core faculty/founders, 21 were friends of ChI., and 20 current students (24% of all current students). ChI’s current total enrollment is 82 students.
In the 17 years of its existence, ChI has graduated a total of 232 people. Approximately 90 alumni donated to ChI. This means that 38.8% of the alumni gave. So what can we do to help ChI increase its revenues so that it can increase the number of critical staff and faculty; increase diversity in the student population; and expand its visibility?
There are many ways that we can participate in this campaign. As ChI begins to write more grant proposals, it will be important to be able to show upward trends in the percent of current students and alumni giving annually. The actual amount you donate is not nearly as important as your participating in giving on an annual basis. If you only gave $5-15 dollars a month (3-4 lattes/month) it would make a difference. I realize that when you are already paying tuition, books, travel expenses, food and shelter, etc., donating may seem over the top for some of you.
Fortunately there are several other ways to give to ChI. You can volunteer in the ChI office. You can help by talking about ChI with your friends and colleagues and perhaps help recruit new students for the two programs. You can donate an old vehicle and get a tax write-off. You can put ChI into your estate planning. Most important of all, you can seriously consider who you know who might have the means to make a significant gift to ChI. Do you know people or organizations who could help ChI in various ways such as donating professional time for a public relations campaign or donating facilities to give ChI a permanent home for offices and classroom space? Perhaps you can get creative and come up with an idea that you believe will assist in future development efforts at ChI.
I came up with a current student description page. ChI Executive Director, Vicki Weiland, and I are exploring how to use Survey Monkey to gather the information from all of you and the rest of our current students to populate the other 81 pages covering our student body. My idea was that in developing a package to use in a presentation to a potential large donor, it is important to do research on what the donor’s interests are. If ChI had a folder with pages describing all current students, the files could be picked for the appropriate students’ matching the donor’s interests. We will have similar pages developed for our graduates.
What is your inspirational idea to help ChI reach its full potential? Can I count on each of you to begin to contribute $5-20/month to ChI?
Thank you for your attention on this very important issue.
Peace & Blessings upon each of you.
By Karuna Gerstein
I am writing in support of your considering funding The Chaplaincy Institute, affectionately known as ChI. I am an alum of the Interfaith Studies program and was ordained an Interfaith Minister in June, 2003. My ministry includes conducting ceremonies of various types, spiritual direction, chaplaincy, social work, social justice, end-of-life consulting, teaching various spiritual practices, writing and photographic ministry.
When I attended ChI there were two staff members, one was the founder Rev. Dr. Gina Rose Halpren and the other was an administrative coordinator. At that time these two women did literally everything to run the school – processing applications, enrolling students, supporting students in their journey, planning events, maintaining the building, fundraising, advertising, outreach, maintaining a minimal website and much more.
Today with a couple more staff, a solid Board of Directors and many more students, ChI inspires and continues to be committed to the values of furthering dialogue, cooperation, education, connection and care. Over the past 10 years, the number of ordained ministers and spiritual directors educated at ChI has risen exponentially. However, there is still a great need for Interfaith ministers and individuals who can meet people where ever they are on their spiritual journey, and who can reach beyond the labels of religion and spirituality to the universal qualities of Love, Hope, Connection and Humanity that connects us all regardless of whatever differences we may perceive.
These values and goals are the heart and soul not just of ChI, the students and alumni, but of every human being. We all want to feel connected; we all want to experience hope; we all need to be met unconditionally. ChI embodies these core human values and supports the calling of individuals whose path is to further those values.
Just like all of us, ChI needs help to continue and grow. Reaching out to communities, promoting and marketing to those who want to engage and learn and offer their gifts takes more than it did 10 years ago when I was attending. Technology and the staff to maintain that technology and to conduct even wider outreach are vital. ChI has done well with the limited resources so far. But the time has come for an expansion of staff and resources to support the growing number of students, and other individuals and communities coming to ChI to learn and nurture their gifts.
It seems a most natural union between you and ChI if both affirm the values of the unity of humanity, celebrating and working to strengthen that unity within the beauty of our diversity. I fully support and recommend that you fund The Chaplaincy Institute at the highest level that you are able.
If you should have any questions or would like to speak with me further, I would be thrilled to talk with you.
My name is Harvey Hyman. I entered ChI in January 2012 subsequent to deciding to change career after many years working as a lawyer. I was hoping for a comprehensive education in world religions, practical guidance in how to minister to the needs of hospital and hospice patients and their families as a chaplain, and ordainment. I am pleased to report that I am not only receiving a great education at ChI but something even more valuable. ChI has devised an abundance of effective ways to get me to observe, explore, and transform every relationship in my life for the better. What relationships? My relationships to myself, to my ancestors, to the Divine, to my fellow students, and to the community. As I walk my journey I am not alone.
The faculty, staff, and students at ChI (along with my Spiritual Director) have held me, encouraged me, and supported me as I go through what I can only describe as a psycho-spiritual healing process. I am wiser, more in touch with the Divine, and more whole as a person now (thanks to ChI) than I have ever been in my life. I am also having healthier, happier, and more connected relationships with everyone I meet. I know that this ongoing transformation will pay off in terms of my effectiveness as a chaplain after I am ordained upon the completion of my studies and my practicum. We live in a world with an infinite potential for peace, cooperation, altruism, and loving community, yet what we find is too often religious, political, and economic conflict with anger and violence. I can testify that ChI is producing healers with the desire and the capacity to help heal our world.
There are many good people who would like to study there but who cannot afford it financially. For those of you with the means to invest in the improvement of our society I cannot think of a better place to give a gift of support than ChI. I would be happy to speak with any person interested in financially supporting ChI or attending ChI as a student either over the phone or in person. My phone number is 510-381-8243. Thank you and many blessings upon you.
In this video, ChI ordained Chaplain Bill Sewall
describes his calling to donate to ChI. “I believe strongly in the need to spread the message of interfaith religion as a healing force in the world,” says Bill, “and ChI addresses this critical need and acts as a major transformative voice in interfaith. It’s mission must continue.”
As Bill explains, “ChI is dependent on donations to operate. Tuitions alone are not sufficient to cover the costs of running the institution. Why do I give to ChI? It’s simple. To help ChI to do its vital work”, he said.
“I would like to call on you to join me in donating to ChI and, if you are currently donating, to consider increasing your contribution. Thank you, thank you so much,” Chaplain Bill Sewall.
Donors like Bill are much needed and appreciated. Won't you please join him
and others in support of ChI? All donations - one time or recurring -
Your ongoing support provides the cash flow necessary to sustain and grow our organization into the future and allows you to show your longer-term ongoing commitment to an organization that is meaningful to you.Your donation will be charged to your credit card each month until you communicate differently.
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