To attain the highest standard in chaplaincy is no easy feat and Naomi Madaras is taking it in stride, along with her full-time job as chaplain at St Luke’s University Hospital, a volunteer position as clerk of the Young Adult Friends community, a commitment to running a half marathon with her father every year, nurturing new friendships in Bethlehem, and caring for herself, her cat, and her home.
At first glance, the process to becoming a board-certified chaplain closely resembles a typical certification process. The application process requires multiple recommendation letters, degree transcripts, evidence verifying work experience, and a fee. In addition, the candidate must include an autobiography, write four 6–8-page essays demonstrating thirty-three professional competencies, submit two clinical chaplain contact narratives with cover pages, and sign an accountability for ethical conduct form verifying that the candidate abides by professional ethical standards set by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, and much more. I met with Naomi to chat about her day to day, Quaker upbringing, spiritual gifts, and path to a vocational call.
Chaplaincy Day to Day
We met over Zoom on a sunny afternoon. Naomi was calm and present, sitting in her office at St. Luke’s hospital. When asked about her work, she calls it “spiritual social work”, facilitating the emotional and spiritual needs of patients, their families, and hospital staff. She spends time providing spiritual accompaniment, therapeutic listening, and sometimes she is tasked to find resources to support patients request for religious rituals and services. There are two misconceptions about chaplaincy work. The first is chaplains are therapists. Unlike therapists, Naomi usually only meets her patients once, on average for 20-minutes, and she doesn’t delve deeply into the patient’s subconscious. Another big misconception, though valid, is chaplains are only present for end-of-life care. And while that’s true, Naomi’s day to day varies. She can perform a baptism in the morning, be called to a code blue emergency, and then bless a patient’s leg before an amputation. When she performs rituals, like communion and baptism, she recalls “feeling out of my league as I’m reading from a piece of paper from a book that’s titled “how to baptize someone 101” and I’m stumbling over the words. It’s more liturgy than I’m used to… but I found that patients very often have a lot of grace with me… It’s an honor and it’s really cool I get to participate with them in what matters to them, and they’re allowing me as an outsider to orchestrate this deeply sacred part of their faith”.
A Quaker Upbringing
Naomi grew up attending Chambersburg Friends Meeting, a small un-programmed meeting in central PA. She remembers her home meeting fondly, recalling lots of play, cooking, Easter egg hunts, practicing different kinds of meditation, and producing elaborate theater productions ranging from the Walls of Jericho to the dangers of consumerism and the rise of Walmart. “It was a great home kind of place” she says, grinning from ear to ear. Naomi attended Westtown School, second generation in her family. Her parents came to Quakerism later in life and decided to raise Naomi and her sister in the faith. By the end of high school, Naomi found herself becoming more aware of issues of injustice and felt disappointed by Quaker’s emphasis on the past and what felt like minimal participation in current injustice fighting efforts. It was at Guilford College where Naomi was able to resolve that tension.
Spiritual Gifts and Speaking Truth
It was also at Guilford where Naomi first recalled an introduction to the concept of spiritual gifts and talents. She was told by her peers that she has a gift for listening, empathy, patience, and taking time to think before she speaks, though the last comes with some difficulty. The fine balance between “thinking before I speak and then also being willing to risk being wrong for the sake of saying what needs to be said in the moment” comes up in her work as a chaplain.
“I have to remind myself that it’s not our role as chaplains to take away pain, it’s not even something we can do. The pain is going to be there and it’s our role to accompany the person through and into that painful place and be a witness, be an accompanier”.
Path to a Vocational Call
Applying to Seminary was a big leap of faith. After graduating from Guilford, she moved to D.C. to work for Friends Place on Capitol Hill, (formerly known as William Penn House) as the Program Coordinator for all educational programs. It was intense work and personal and family health issues prompted Naomi to leave her work in DC. She saw a lot of roughness and spiritual suffering and harm in the medical system and became curious. She chose to shadow a hospital chaplain and social worker for a few weeks. She loved the chaplaincy work and applied to Union Theological Seminary in New York City. It was during a class about worship and liturgy that she felt reassured she was on the right path. She says, “I love creating rituals with people and making it feel like home”.
Young Adult Leadership
Naomi also brings her gifts to her position as a co-clerk of the PYM Young Adult community. She has the uncanny ability to think affectionately about the needs of the community. She operates from a subtle mix of self-awareness, integrity, and patience as she conducts meetings for business, creating a container for possibility and corporate discernment to co-exist. We are grateful for Naomi’s service to the yearly meeting.
All Quakers and seekers ages 18-35ish are welcome to the next Young Adult retreat focusing on vocation! The overnight retreat will be held at Haverford Friends Meeting the weekend of May 5-7, 2023. Learn more about Young Adult Friends events and retreats, also check out the YAF Instagram.