Chaplaincy at Echoing Green

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara

Lucky is the word I use most commonly to describe my work life. I’m the Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, a grassroots start up that works for LGBT civil rights in the South. Talk about uphill battles is a typical response when I tell people this. And it’s true. But I like underdogs, and I like being one.

Here’s a bit about the work we do:


On a given day, my job might involve supporting someone who’s been a victim of a hate crime or organizing public actions or nerding out about strategy questions as the national landscape around LGBT rights continues to shapeshift daily.

At first blush, this work appears to have little to do with my other job: being a chaplain for Echoing Green Fellows. But, more and more, I realize how much connects the two, including the sense of call—or obligation—that pulls me to both. In each role, I work around questions I’ve been preoccupied (some would say obsessed) with for years:

What moves people not just to care, but also to act?

How do people find hope even in dark hours? How do people express their deepest convictions in both private and public life?

Jasmine Beach-FerraraAlong with 1996 Echoing Green Fellow Eric Dawson, I’ve been a chaplain to EG Fellows since 2009. Pro sports teams, the U.S. Congress, and hospitals have chaplains. Why shouldn’t social change organizations, Eric and I asked back when we were divinity school classmates. Echoing Green was ready to explore that question with us and, from this seed, an innovation grew. Among fellowship programs, Echoing Green is carving out new territory in asking what it means to support Fellows spiritually as they tackle the world’s toughest problems.

Chaplaincy is premised on a simple idea:

Each person has an interior life that shapes how she or he makes meaning of the world and makes decisions, especially in times of pressure.

Chaplains walk with people as they ask those questions, offering support and care which—we hope—help people discern the way forward. Chaplaincy takes questions like why do you do what you do and keeps asking them. The answer, it turns out, is often an unfolding, complex story—the stuff of novels, not sound bites.

Sometimes, chaplaincy can seem a tough sell in the hard-charging world of social entrepreneurs, where success is measured in lives touched and dollars raised. But I would offer that even those Fellows who arrive on the Echoing Green shores hungriest for board strategies and fundraising leads are also wondering: Am I enough? Are the trade-offs worth it? What if I fail? These questions swim beneath the surface of our work and, periodically, appear in ways that can’t be ignored. In our day jobs and as Echoing Green chaplains, Eric and I give voice to these questions. But more to the point: we listen as people live into the answers. It’s work I’m honored, and obliged, to do.

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