Joan Paddock Maxwell (MTS, 2005) spent six years as a hospital palliative care chaplain in the Washington, D.C., area, endorsed by the Episcopal Church. With both a father and two grandfathers who were physicians, Maxwell’s familiarity with hospitals began at an early age.
“I have always been drawn to the human spirit, and to my surprise found myself being clearly called to hospital chaplaincy,” Maxwell said. “This calling wasn’t in the form of a single burning bush, but rather a series of whispers and events that came together as absolutely compelling.”
Specifically, Maxwell felt called to minister as an interfaith palliative care chaplain to people experiencing suffering and life-threatening illness. “It was my joy to serve people from every walk of life and many different countries; people of many
different faiths, including no faith at all,” she said. “As life draws to a close, matters of the spirit become crucially important to patients and their families and friends. I loved the intensity and the honesty that flowed in those times.”
Maxwell published a book in summer 2017 entitled, Soul Support: Spiritual Encounters at Life’s End – Memoir of a Hospital Chaplain. “I wrote Soul Support to share the wonderfully graced encounters it was my privilege to witness between dying persons and the benevolent force that was always present – a force that some call God and some call a Mystery,” she said. “I was so astonished and so moved by what I witnessed that I felt I was being asked by that Mystery to write the book.”
Studying at Wesley played a vital role in Maxwell’s preparation for hospital chaplaincy as she was challenged to think deeply about theology and faith traditions.
“At Wesley, my love of Scripture was wonderfully enriched and deepened, she said. “As one unexpected result, I had a rich relationship with a devout Muslim patient who taught Islam by virtue of our shared love for our respective holy books. We were not trying to convert one another, but the love that we both felt for our own traditions served as a powerful binding force.”
The diversity present on campus likewise prepared her for the ministry of chaplaincy in the world. “I learned much about different life experiences and points of view from my peers – religious traditions, family traditions, political views, ways of praying, ways of responding to the Mystery’s call,” Maxwell said. “This exposure was an invaluable foretaste of the amazing diversity of hospital patients whom it was my privilege to serve.”
Editor’s Note: Wesley takes seriously the call to prepare individuals for the ministry of chaplaincy. The Doctor of Ministry track in Soul Care for Pastors, Chaplains and Clinicians will launch a new cohort in May 2018. Application deadline is Feb. 15, 2018. You can learn more and apply here.