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My First Chaplain’s Conference- APC2017

Bringing Jesus to Texas

If y’all had told me a couple of years ago that I would be bringing Jesus to anyone, I would have shaken my head and thought y’all were crazy. While I love Jesus, I am firmly rooted in my interfaith seminary education, and have an ever-expanding curiosity and respect for the diversity and beauty of all paths to the Divine; religious and otherwise. This year, when the opportunity to attend the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) conference came along, I knew that there would be a majority of Christians attending. As chaplains know, I was going to have to meet people where they are… and so I brought Jesus. I brought my brown Jesus, my black Jesus, and my white Jesus.

I also brought several other samples of both faith-specific and secular care cards, to begin spreading the word about these little creations. Initially I thought I would be leaving them in random places for people to discover, (hence the use of wording from Amazing Grace), but soon found that handing them to people directly as I met them created a personal connection, and gave me a moment to talk about them. I brought Jesus to people in the elevator, at dinner, in the lobby, and gave Jesus as a thank you gift to workshop presenters and docents. Jesus also accompanied me to the luncheon and banquet. I am humbled and grateful by the overwhelmingly positive response to these little care cards.


The Marriott Marquis is a brand new facility, and we were given a Texas-sized welcome. The lobby was beautiful with tremendous chandeliers and marble, with ample seating arrangements conducive to lounging, (drinking), and networking. Floating on tubes around the lazy river (on the 6th floor!) was a welcome reprieve from the packed schedule of workshops and conference activities. I enjoyed also meeting and getting to know people at the poolside, and yes, Jesus came to the water with me as well.

I had the privelege of attending a couple of four-hour intensives: one on working with veterans struggling to find a new normal, while facing physical disabilities and mental illness; the other on developing a disaster plan for hospitals in partnership with community. I attended workshops on African American women’s voices, and on creating rituals for end of life transitions. I withstood exposure to perspectives rooted in exclusivist Christian theology, and appreciated witnessing the general movement towards inclusive and pluralistic interfaith approaches of care in chaplaincy.

Tour of Sacred Spaces: Texas Medical Center

We took a walking tour of sacred spaces wihin several different hospitals, all interconnected and part of the Texas Medical Center. There are 106,000 employees at the center, and it is run like its own city within Houston. A couple of the more traditional Christian spaces included stained glass and sacred elements from previous structures that had been dismantled.

An outside space had been themed to a hospital’s exploration of “pathways to healing”, bringing

natural elements of plants, stone, and water into the healing space. The children’s hospital sacred space had fiber optic stars in the sky, and the lighting rotated through day and night cycles, the room’s creation taking into account requests from children to “bring nature in.”


A Muslim masjid had been created with a generous donation from a patient who felt his life had been saved by the hospital, and more sacred spaces were created specifically to be wheelchair accessible, spiritual, restful, and healing, without being tied to a specific religion. Docents in each location consistently stated the hospitals were committed to being open and welcoming to people of all faiths. Many had witnessed Christian services and Muslim prayers happening simultaneously in the same sacred space.


Like I mentioned, this was my first APC conference. I was impressed with the level of organization and the variety of workshops that were offered. I was delighted to have conversations with people from as far away as Trinidad, and to meet people that live in Palo Alto, CA and work at Stanford, only a few miles from my hometown. I was especially moved by our keynote speakers at the banquet, who shared personal stories and perspectives from the African American and LGBTQ communities. I had a handful of heart-to-heart conversations and gained some new perspectives into how CPE training can grow people in a variety of ways. I gained new understanding and insight for my own path, and so very much appreciate the people who spent those hours talking with me, sharing their wisdom, their own vulnerability, their gifts, their strengths. I will keep in touch!

As I prepare to begin my 4th unit of CPE in a week, I will be bringing my new-found knowledge back into my work. Having now been to this conference, I am excited to know a bit more about this broader community of chaplains, the support that this provides to us as individuals making our way through the educational systems towards board certification, and am especially grateful for the new connections and friendships that bloomed throughout the experience. As I had included with my promotion of Jesus cards, may my presence in your work be a blessing. May you find avenues where a small gift of sacred art can make a big difference, both with patients and with staff. May my AltarNative care cards inspire and empower everyone to reach out across the lines of faith and extend a warm and supportive hand. May we all continue to grow in our knowledge of what it means to live with, learn from, and honor the many faiths flourishing around us.

May we be curious. May we be accepting. May we be humble… for G*d’s grace dwells within each of our hearts.


Rev. Jen Miller, Interfaith Chaplain & Illustrator

San Francisco Bay Area, CA

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Treasured Moments

He is unresponsive. Imminently dying, they say. He has already been visited by other chaplains over the course of his stay, the priest has been called for Anointing of the Sick. His grown children gather around his bed and we hold hands… I lead a prayer for peaceful transitions, for healing, for comfort. The family weeps openly. I offer to sing Amazing Grace, they nod their heads, blow their noses. I sing. Dad opens his eyes and locks his gaze with mine. When I finish singing a second verse, he smiles. “That was nice! Thank you!” He exclaims. His family is surprised. He hasn’t been speaking for a while now. I pull out a Jesus card, cut it, fold it. I hand it to Dad, who smiles broadly and exclaims “Beautiful!” It is art. It is music. It is presence. It is prayer. It is a (last) moment this family will treasure forever.

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The Loss of the Future

Cards in Action: Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. It was a Hindu prayer for peace that I read to this family, as they said their goodbyes to little Siddhartha. He was born still at 33 weeks. He was their first child. Dad’s parents were there, Mom’s sister was there, tearfully supporting. My interfaith book has prayers for fetal demise, but they are decidedly Christian, and not appropriate today. It is always difficult to lose a child. An infant, especially. It is a different kind of loss, one never expects to bury the dreams the future holds, leaving behind the only-just forming imaginings of what this family would grow to be. I brought her a bright blue and green patterned quilt from our office cupboard, wrapped Baby in it. Had Mom hold him in it. I took an angel from my bag and asked them to spell their son’s name. In the white space on the paper angel, I wrote it out. Then I held the angel between my palms. I stood, infusing this angel with silent prayer, before folding it into existence. Once folded, I handed it to Dad. I asked about temple, and if they could request a “puja” for healing. Just using their word for ritual meant something. I hugged Mom. I told her it is hard to start off motherhood as a mother to an angel, and also that she would become stronger for this experience. I told her to take her time to mourn this child. That her body would heal faster than her heart.

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The Grace of Our Lady

Cards in Action: With one foot in our world and one foot in the next, she lay in bed, weeping and crying out for her mama. She no longer recognized her husband of 50 years, and had ceased speaking. Her eyes tracked movement in the upper corners of the hospital room. I provided anointing at her husband’s request, and folded a Virgen de Guadalupe prayer card. Handing it to her, I said “para fuerza y animo”. For strength and courage. She wept more as she kissed the card and drew it to her chest. I knelt by her bed, took her hand and sang Ave Maria, as her husband sobbed.
A few more words, a quiet exit…. Two days later a staff chaplain relays their request that I return: “We don’t know if you can find her, she might be an angel… but please send her, if you see her!” They had said. I return to a smiling woman, sitting in a chair, who recognizes me, greets me. Her husband is there, telling me how she began speaking after I left- telling him God had given her a second chance. For now, she has returned consciousness to the Earthly plane- for a little while longer.

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Inauguration Day

Cards in Action: I took my youngest to our local burger joint for lunch today. The mood was somber. A couple old ladies joked with the owner, asking him if he “had signed the register yet”. The family is Muslim, with no outward identifiers as such. This I had learned. We have been eating there for 20 years. Today I learned they are originally from Palestine. (I asked). I asked to borrow a pair of scissors and cut and folded my Healing Hands card. The owner thanked me quietly, and showed me where he had placed it in his tiny kitchen. A small gesture, on a day like this, for sure. And one that touched a heart in solidarity.

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The AltarNative Angel

Faith Specific Pop-Up Prayer Cards, AltarNative Angels, and Secular cards for Wellbeing are here!

Watch: How to Fold Your AltarNative Angel

image In the midst of the most intense and transitional moments of our lives, the smallest gesture of kindness and caring can make the biggest impact. As chaplains and healers, we know the importance of our presence, our silence, our listening, our touch. We know that holding sacred space while enabling and encouraging others to connect to the Divine is an integral part of our work. For many, prayer is helpful. For those who believe in something, a tangible representation of faith and divine connection is a priceless gift. AltarNative Angels represent love, hope, faith, and protection.

According to a 2011 poll done by CBS News, nearly 8 out of 10 Americans believe in angels. Now, moving beyond the standard prayer card, your organization can offer personalized AltarNative Angels. These special little angels are whimsical and colorful, and include blank space to write a person’s name, prayer, or intention on the back (which becomes the space inside the skirt, once folded).  May AltarNative Angels serve to remind each and every one of us that by nature of our existence, we are connected with all that is Holy, Sacred, and Divine, no matter what our faith.