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Chaplaincy Without Borders

Being an effective social change leader is not just about achieving a business plan. The emotional and mental wellbeing of the people who do this work, at all levels, matters. In response, Echoing Green chaplains Eric Dawson ’96, Shaundra Cunningham, and Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, have offered a first-of-its-kind secular chaplaincy support to Fellows for the last 7 years. Wellbeing is core to an entrepreneur’s work and critical for the social impact space; we look forward to sharing our learnings of how a model of care can help sustain this work more widely with the social entrepreneurship field and beyond.


This article originally appeared on Harvard Divinity School.

The NFL has chaplains. Most universities do, too. The military, U.S. Congress, and hospitals across the country have access to chaplaincy resources, but not social change leaders. Not typically anyway.

But over the last several years, three Harvard Divinity School alums have been working to change that by partnering with Echoing Green, an early stage investor in global change leaders.

“To us, the intersection of chaplaincy and social change work seemed like an exciting new frontier, another place to support and strengthen social entrepreneurs.”

—Rev. Eric Dawson ’96, founder of Peace First

As chaplains to Echoing Green fellows, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Eric Dawson, and Shaundra Cunningham—all MDiv ’10—provide spiritual care to a community of leaders working across the globe on issues ranging from criminal justice reform to HIV/AIDS prevention to microfinance to climate change. The three work to address the spiritual needs of leaders as well as the spiritual dimensions of being on the frontlines of the world’s problems.

“I lost a young person I was close to in a shooting,” Dawson said. “I realized there was nothing I could do to fix his sister’s grief. You can’t fix a dead 17 year old. All you can do is bear witness to the pain. I went into ministry to learn how to be with people facing problems and moments you can’t fix.”

It was during their time at HDS and in the years immediately following that the three learned to be chaplains. In Boston-area and South Carolina hospitals, they would sit with families and patients as they were told of devastating diagnoses, said goodbye to loved ones, or simply managed the daily inconveniences of hospital life.

Echoing Green Chaplains Eric Dawson, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, and Shaundra Cunningham at the 2015 All Fellows Conference.

In their coursework at HDS, they studied the history of chaplaincy and the theological and ethical aspects of providing pastoral care in secular settings.

“When we landed at HDS, we had already spent the first chapters of our professional lives working in the social change sector,” said Beach-Ferrara. “It was, in part, the suffering and crises we witnessed in our past work that compelled us to seek training as ministers.

But they had a problem. Where they saw possibility, others did not.

In secular spaces, when they talked about the spirit and about faith, an awkward silence would settle in, and sometimes, even a palpable discomfort. As they quickly found, proposing spiritual care for social change leaders was met with responses ranging from skepticism to suspicion: Why would you do that? Aren’t you really just trying to proselytize? That will never work.

But in Echoing Green, they found a willing partner to explore these questions.

Continue reading this article via the Harvard Divinity School.

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