Written by Jory Gomes ’18
On a misty Thursday morning, I met with Hiram’s new Chaplain, Chris McCreight, at the Fisher All-Faith Chapel & Meeting House on Hiram’s campus. McCreight has spent the past few months establishing himself on Hiram’s campus hosting events like a pre-holiday discussion on family and holiday conflict, discussions on grief and pain, meditation sessions to alleviate student anxiety, and even an Ash Wednesday service open to all members of the Hiram community, regardless of faith. In our discussion, we talked about how he wants to serve the Hiram community as chaplain, what he sees the role of the chaplain to be, misconceptions that people have about chaplains in general, and what “all-faith” truly means.
After attending Hiram, where he met his wife, Jennifer McCreight, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education at Hiram, Chaplain McCreight pursued a Masters in Divinity at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. In his words, he “came to Hiram with one set of beliefs that I felt secure in, and then through my education these thoughts and beliefs were scrambled.” He speaks of his time at Emory, and his subsequent years spent learning at a campus ministry, as when he learned how to apply his religious knowledge. He felt a sense of call in becoming a college chaplain. In conversation, McCreight cited his own college experience at Hiram as the inspiration for his work—he wants to help students “transform” during their college years, he wants to foster a community that encourages students to pursue wholeness the way he was encouraged.
He sees college as a truly transformative time, given all of the new experiences and education that is being thrust upon students. It’s the chaplain’s job to help students who might be struggling with how to maintain their faith and pursue their true self, while also grappling with new knowledge and new experiences. He explained that sometimes college can be a time of conflict, where students’ integrity of identity feels threatened, and that he wants to help all students pursue wholeness. He describes wholeness as a feeling of symmetry with their ideals and their lived reality—whatever that looks like.
Speaking on the role of the chaplain, he explained that a chaplain is rooted in a set of traditions and faith, and sometimes more than one set. But, he wants it to be clear that the purpose of being a chaplain is to meet people where they are. A chaplain may be rooted in one religion, like he is with Christianity, but that his job is to understand a myriad of religions, and the traditions, beliefs, and experiences that correspond with those religions. With compassion, a chaplain, in McCreight’s view, is supposed to honor the traditions that people hold, while helping them move towards wholeness by giving compassionate counseling. For example, the framework that can help those experiencing grief, is “recognize the grief, honor the grief and what it requires, and through this the pain is transformed.”
Sometimes though, these rather inclusive job duties, aren’t what people associating with chaplains. The biggest misconception that Chaplain McCreight wants to dispel is the idea that seeing a chaplain, or going into the all-faith chapel, isn’t for them. He stated that it is the chaplains’ job to honor people’s traditions, whether that specific chaplain believes it or not. He wants to help people understand the chaplain’s role as inclusive to different people and their identities—that regardless of sexual orientation, religious tradition, religious affiliation, or lack thereof, his job remains the same. As a chaplain, he is there to affirm people’s identities and beliefs, while helping them heal and pursue wholeness as an individual. McCreight went on to say that “a misconception of chaplains (and clergy) is that they are judgmental – or that one would experience judgment in coming to a chaplain to converse or seek counseling. Far from it. A chaplain (any worth their salt) will have compassion and grace when it comes to pastoral care and counseling.”
This is what it means to be “all-faith” according to Chaplain McCreight. He went on to say that “a chaplain is one who finds wisdom and grace in traditions outside of their own. I find wisdom and grace within Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Native American Spirituality, and on and on, along with the tradition that I practice, Christianity. We are all seeking meaning—ways of understanding the world and ourselves within it.” McCreight went on to say that he believes that every tradition offers meaning to the questions like: “what does it mean to be human?” and “what does it mean to be here?”
To illuminate the discussion, and explain to the Hiram community just how he plans to implement all-faith programming—he referenced several events that he has already put on. The chapel has hosted meditation sessions where there is guided meditation for students to work on stress reduction and the alleviation of anxiety. On top of this, McCreight hosted a discussion on pre-holiday anxiety and how to deal with familial conflict and stress while at home for the holidays. Though what is perhaps most interesting is the discussion he held on grief and pain.
At the event, McCreight used a Buddhist parable on the universality of suffering (we aren’t alone in our pain), to assist people with their feelings of grief and to “promote a sense of gratitude for what has been lost or what has been harmed (the cause of pain) and to hold that along with the pain of loss.” The group used the Jewish practice of sitting shiva to help people learn how to sit with their pain, and understand that it won’t kill us. Finally, he used Christian poetry that spoke to despair, impressing upon people the importance of giving difficult issues time, giving them a community to exist in, and understanding the source of our grief.
McCreight then said that doing these activities can be “eye-opening for those who are familiar with the pain they are experiencing, but also to those who are carrying their pain around, but aren’t aware of it.” He finished his comments by saying that “whatever ‘it’ is, we need to recognize it, honor it, and then transform it to reach wholeness.” As chaplain, McCreight is an invaluable resource to Hiram’s campus. Students should use him as a resource when facing conflict, religious or otherwise, so as to help them better pursue their idea of wholeness.