Learning to Listen to God and One Another

Categories: Alums in the World

Union alumni/ae embark on a diverse range of vocations, from ordained ministry to law to non-profit leadership. In our Alums in the World profiles, we explore our graduates’ professional lives. Hannah Mills received her M.Div. from Union in 2019, and is doing a CPE residency in Brooklyn.

Tell us about what you’re doing.

I’m serving at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I’m doing a year-long chaplaincy internship that will give me three units of CPE in addition to the unit I completed last summer, so by the end of the year, I will be hopefully certified as a hospital chaplain.

What do your duties look like?

My schedule involves reporting to the hospital five days a week. Tuesday through Thursday, I’ll be in classes about psychology, spirituality, and pastoral care, plus doing group work on personal development with my cohort. On Mondays and Fridays, I’ll be visiting patients, families, and hospital staff to offer pastoral care.

What led you to choose this program?

I chose this program because over the past few years at Union, I’ve grown to appreciate New York, which is not something I anticipated because I moved here from New Orleans, which is a very different city. I decided that I wanted to learn more about what ministry can look like in this city. I’m also discerning a call to hospital chaplaincy. I did a hospital chaplaincy internship for my first unit of CPE at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, NJ last summer and really loved it. It was challenging in so many ways, but I loved seeing how I grew and changed for the better. I’m looking forward to sharpening my skills this year, which include becoming a stronger listener, learning to recognize the emotional and spiritual needs of patients and families, and working to meet those needs.

Tell us about your work here at Union and how it connects to your work next year.

The class that helped me prepare most was probably Introduction to Pastoral and Spiritual Care with Dr. Pamela Cooper-White. Some of the assigned readings helped me with challenges that I encountered in my first unit, like working with families who are about to lose a loved one. My relationships with women in the Women’s Interfaith Residency Program at Union have also been and nourishing: the WIRP has been a venue for self-growth and self-reflection, a place for me to work on maneuvering my faults and flaws in community. That’s been helpful to prepare for my group work in the hospital, but it also informs my work with patients in terms of helping me recognize myself and understand why I do what I do.

How does this relate to your call to ordained ministry?

I am on the ordination track in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and there’s the potential for me to be ordained to a chaplaincy position, should I find one. I don’t have to be ordained to serve as a chaplain, necessarily, but regardless, when I graduate from this residency program, I will have stronger pastoral care skills that will help me be more present for families in need in a congregational setting. All the skills I learn this year will be incredibly valuable no matter what kind of ministry I enter next.

How do you see God in your work?

During my first unit of CPE, I really noticed the presence of God in silence. I learned how to listen to the “beats” of a family or a situation. There are moments when it isn’t appropriate to say anything. When someone had lost a loved one, there was nothing that I could say or do to put a Band-Aid on the situation. The only thing I could really do was enter into that space with them and experience God with them in that place. It wasn’t about trying to pull them out in into joy, healing, or any other state. Rather, God was very, very present both in the crying after the loss of a loved one and in the complete silence and shock. God was present in the act of sitting with a family and holding their hands or even just handing them a glass of water.  I was reminded that God intimately knows each individual and that God is with them in their grief and learned to open myself up to that experience, even though it’s painful. I learned to trust that God is working in the situation, that God is bigger than the situation, and that I am just a vessel or a tool that God is hopefully using in this work – and to remember that God is the one who’s moving and blessing in that moment.