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Photo by Jessica Shine
On Saturday, November 19, 2016, The ChI Interfaith Community ordained six new Interfaith ministers at Christ Church in Berkeley, California, before a congregation of about 100 people, including ChI students, clergy, faculty, staff, board members and ordinands' family members, partners, spouses, and friends. Pictured above they are: (from left): Rev. Sharon Campton, Rev. Sue Gimpel, Rev. Toni Saul, Betty Spamer, Rev. Lisa Winston, Rev. Ann Robben Dott, and Rev. Molly Johnson. This event also included a special ceremony honoring Betty (center) for completing ChI's Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certificate Program.
The service began with a processional accompanied by the lively drumming and singing of ChI Core Faculty members, Rev. Jim Larkin and Rev. Megan Wagner, Ph.D. ChI Board President Jim Christiansen, P.hD., delivered a moving invocation. Rev. John Mabry, Ph.D, Core Faculty member and Director of the Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certificate Program, delivered a certificate of completion to Betty Spamer. Steve Saul, Toni's son, provided the musical offering, various piano concertos, including a piece he wrote. Rev. Jessica Shine, M.Div, ChI Interfaith Community Minister gave the offering prayer and conducted the ordination vows, and Rev. Lauren Van Ham, Seminary Dean, blessed the ordinands' stoles. After the entire community confirmed the ordination of the graduates through a ritual of laying on of hands, the service concluded with a Benediction from Rev. John Mabry and a rousing rendition of "We Are the Heart."
The ChI Interfaith Community welcomes our six new clergy and Spiritual Director and holds each of them in our prayers with joy and hope.
Four years ago I pursued an intentional spiritual vocational discernment for the final third of my life. As a result of being called to chaplaincy, I’ve been led to complete many amazing, life-altering experiences during the past two years: The Chaplaincy Institute’s Interfaith Studies Program, a year residency (Clinical Pastoral Education) as a hospital chaplain, and ordination as a Commissioned Lay Pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). And, now – interfaith ordination! While I considered ordination way back in high school, the only options I was aware of then were as a parish pastor or a missionary – neither one a calling, either then or now. But, as it turns out, these many decades later, my MA in Theology after college has turned out to be more than just “something I wanted to do” – it was part of the path that had led me to this place, in the fullness of time. I blessed to be a hospice chaplain with a wonderful team in the East Bay (other side of the tunnel).
I am so grateful to my long-suffering family – husband, Ray, and children, Jesse and Chelsea – and to my many patient and forgiving friends for their faithful support and prayers during this journey. I’m now enjoying the time to (finally) reconnect with them. Gratitude, also, to ChI for this gift to learn so much from so many, to develop deep relationships with fellow ChI-sters, and to continue on as a member of the vital ChI Interfaith Community.
When I began the Interfaith Studies Program, I was unsure of (and a bit anxious about) how my primary Christian faith would shift and change. Now on the “other side,” I experience an ever deeper, mystical Christian faith, which continues to be informed and enriched by the many truths and traditions of the world’s religions, especially my secondary practice of Sufism.
May it be so.
Sue believes human beings are spiritual beings of the Cosmos, born out of the never-ending stream of supreme Love and Wisdom flowing from the starry heavens. Within herself, as well as with clients, Sue seeks to clear and transform all that keeps us from living and expressing our divine nature and our ability to see the divine in each other.
Conscious conception, natural home birth, and parenting three wise and openhearted children, led Sue to Waldorf Education. Based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, the Waldorf Curriculum “educates from inside out”, bringing Light to the head and warming the Heart so that goodness may flow from the hands. In 2009 Sue became a Certified Waldorf Collaborative Counselor and Simplicity Parenting Counselor, to coordinate with faculty, students and parents for Social Inclusion and the prevention of teasing and bullying in the classroom and on the playground. As a Simplicity Parenting Counselor, Sue coaches parents in developing a compassionate response to their childrens’ soul fever, allowing the spirit of the child to heal and blossom in love and wholeness. In March 2017, Sue completes a Certificate in Anthroposophical Counseling Psychology, an integrative approach to counseling, not just addressing the mind, but also soul and spirit, as they manifest into thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Healing and transforming the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other so called “mental illnesses” can often become a doorway to spiritual awakening, growth and conscious evolution, instead of being pathologized.
A series of injuries and chronic illness incited Sue’s own path of healing and transformation, leading to an embodied mystical relationship with the universal beings of Love and Wisdom. The esoteric teachings of Rudolf Steiner and Valentin Tomberg inspired Sue to delve into the mysteries of the Divine Feminine, making evident the interfaith commonalities of World Religions. Sue is currently earning a Master of Divinity from Starr King School of Ministry and she is an ordained Priestess serving Christ and Sophia. Sue’s ministry serves individuals and ‘Families in Transition,” not only in raising compassionate and whole-hearted children, but also serving families who are transitioning into Elder Care, Hospice, or ushering a loved one across the Threshold. Sue offers Grief Support and is a Certified Family Directed Funeral Guide, collaborating with families to create their own grieving and funeral rituals, as well as Green Burials.
A native of Michigan, Sue lives in West Sonoma County California with her husband of more than 30 years, and their youngest son.
In 1983, Molly Johnson had a rough entry into this life, nearly dying four times when her underdeveloped lungs collapsed. As a child, she wondered why she had survived when she could have easily died. This got her thinking that her life might have some kind of higher purpose and that there was something greater than herself.
Her journey into spiritual inquiry really began at age 13 when her Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister asked her what she believed. Molly couldn't articulate her beliefs to her liking so she did an internet search and discovered Wicca, which reflected her worldview. Within a year, she was creating her own rituals, prayers, and dragging her friends out to the woods behind her house to celebrate the autumnal equinox.
Molly first received her call to ministry on September 11, 2001 when she was a freshman at SUNY New Paltz. Beyond her own shock and horror at the attack, Molly realized that a large number of people on the campus had loved ones in New York City so she organized and led a candlelit vigil on the quad that night. While standing in the circle of lit candles and holding space while the participants gave voice to their fear, she saw herself as if from above and heard-felt: "This is what you will do. You will be a minister."
Over the next fifteen years, she lead five UU young adult and campus ministry groups, trained as a Reiki Master and sound healer, cultivated mindfulness in meditation and spiritual connection through intuitive vocal sound, met many and diverse spirit guides, led songs for rituals and singing meditation groups, enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at Pacific School of Religion with a concentration in spiritual care, experienced unitive moments, led worship and music at continental UU young adult retreats, volunteered as a peer counselor on the GLBT National Hotline, found sangha and training with the Berkeley Shambhala Meditation Center, provided spiritual care to a diverse multi-faith community of college students, cultivated compassion for herself and others through maitri and tonglen practice, and, of course, enrolled at The Chaplaincy Institute. All of these experiences have prepared her for this moment.
I like to say, “God is bigger than any religion.” As a teenager I wrote a poem expressing that God is not outside of myself in any separated kind of form. I wrote of God as Love, the breath of air and nature. In my twenties I began sitting with myself through intense emotions, boredom, fantasies of the future, thoughts of the past and learning or noticing coming back to body awareness and breath. Mindfulness practice accompanied me into dance, movement and other body awareness disciplines, such as yoga, and into my daily life. I remember how excited I was when I realized that more than half my life was in the context of waking up, remembering my Self with attention on being Spirit. By then I had been an ordained minister for many years in a tradition that practices spiritual healing, working with energy, and clairvoyant reading as a form of counseling. Around that time I became co-leader for a New Thought center and helped it transition into a lay-led community after the original minister had left the area. I also learned I loved working with the group as a speaker and creating Sunday services.
I bring a sense of spaciousness and acceptance of what is, both my experience and that of the other person, into deep listening and a grounded presence when working with others. My sensitivity to energy informs me and I have learned to trust impulses as to what to say in both one-on-one and group settings. I love to teach others about becoming sensitive to energy and opening to greater aspects of themselves. When not in spiritual or religious settings I talk about the aspect of awareness as consciousness which is not limited by time or space and the benefits of learning to focus the consciousness in present time and in the body. The power to create changes in one’s life is only in the present.
Interfaith Ordination is a validation of the transition of integrating my Buddhist and Christian mystical paths. Jesus became Christ through the infusion of Golden light, that pours forth with healing energy, awakening other spiritual qualities and the realization of oneness with God and the source of all that is. That which created the universe is now expressing through me as well. We are here to create heaven on earth awakening compassion, caring and responsible stewardship. Interfaith Chaplaincy is giving me the opportunity to take spiritual care to people of any or no faith tradition into a larger context of my community. In my mid-life and first ministry I officiated many weddings. Now I am interested in applying those skills of creating meaningful ceremonies to final transitions. Supporting loved ones and their families in the journey of conscious endings is a strong calling on my path. My interfaith ministry will continue through my involvement as a Hospice volunteer, member of an advisory team on Spirituality at Columbia Memorial Hospital, teaching workshops and classes, and working with people in groups and individually.
Over the years, I have lived into many ways of being and doing in the world: professional pilot, professor and administrator, coach, stewardship minister, hospice caregiver, communications director, docent, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, daughter, sister, aunt, wife, mother, widow, nonna, friend and, today, interfaith minister.
Nonna and Friend are my favorite descriptors. The joy of being Nonna requires no explanation. Using the word, Friend, I am referencing a spiritual essence – an ability to provide respect, hope, justice and inherit meaningwith freedom, love and compassion. This is what I strive for in my being and doing.
I am grateful for my gentle landing at CHI and the formative experience it has graced me with. I am appreciative to those of you who have accompanied me on this sacred sojourn in both professional and deeply personal ways. I am thankful for my sons, daughters-in-love and grandchildren who never stop loving and supporting me as mom, nonna and friend. As I ready my departure from CHI, the teachings, support and love lift me to new ways of being in the world.
You have blessed me.
How did I get here?
I am wont to say: “When you find your feet where you didn’t expect, Spirit has something to do with it.”
Growing up in a small town in rural Michigan, school and church were the center of shared activities. Significantly, my early life was grounded in church. That experience was first deepened by presence of the Divine and music entering my life around the age of eight. The former came as a visitation. The latter was the beginning of my musical life that eventually led to a degree in music education. I came to define my theology as relationships and music: music is a bridge to the Divine and connection to one another. So in a real sense, if I’m paying attention, there is no place I cannot know the presence of the Divine in my lived experience.
In 2005, I trained in Music Imagery, an adaptation of The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music. Using music and the imagery it evokes, it is a way to access one’s inner world. I was invited to bring the process into worship and later to small groups. Immediately, I could see it was a holistic way to explore one’s spiritual side. A music ministry was born that grew into a practice and became Journey Into Music.
Ten years later, 2015, Spirit brought me to the door of The Chaplaincy Institute. With a lifelong interest in spiritual practices of the world’s faith traditions, my goal was to integrate knowledge of spiritual direction across traditions with my music ministry. The program fulfilled my goal and much more this past year.
My cohort group provided community – the relationship factor, affirming how much we need the support of one another in the world. I made lifelong spiritual friends.
My supervisor and spiritual director skillfully mentored me to listen with my heart.
My directees informed and confirmed my belief that we are all spiritual by nature.
My appreciation of different religious traditions and practices grew immensely.
My concept of God expanded and is more suitably eclectic.
My personal soul work was transforming. I was carried to higher and deeper places.
My offering to lead Journey Into Music workshops at a local church realized my goal.
My music ministry took on a new dimension with Spirit as co-creator and guide.
In practice, I found Spiritual Direction and Journey Into Music to integrate effectively. Both are of the same spirit – listening for the constant eternal voice in dialogue and experiencing through music a direct connection to the Divine within. I am inspired how the affective and aesthetic qualities of the two modalities intersect and intuitively work together. And, I am excited to share an enhanced ministry in spiritual care. The Interfaith Spiritual Direction program has written the preface to a new chapter in my life.
Where will Spirit lead next?