Alumna is Commissioned as Chaplain

Beryl Knudsen

On Sunday, January 10, 2016, Beryl Knudsen (M.Div. 2014) was commissioned by the Orthodox Church in America as a hospital chaplain, by Fr. John Eissman at Ss. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Bethel, CT. The service is part of the endorsement process for lay chaplains in the Orthodox Church. Chaplain Beryl is assigned to Danbury Hospital, where she trained as a chaplain and where she has held a 24-hour-a-week staff position since October 2014. As part of a team of chaplains who respond to emergencies, Beryl visits the non-Catholic patients requesting spiritual care, and provides pastoral care for both the families of patients and for hospital staff.

As a member of the Palliative Care Team, Beryl assesses and ministers to patients with life limiting illnesses; some are in the early stages of their diseases, and some are approaching their final hours. Once a week she runs a group on the psychiatric inpatient unit on topics such as prayer, peace, forgiveness and healing.

I started attending St. Vladimir's in my mid-fifties when my youngest child was ten years old. As we explored my goals, the counselor I was seeing told me I was too old to start a new career, but God had other ideas! A few years later my love of learning brought me to St. Vladimir’s and, while a student at SVOTS, the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) field assignment led me to a career as a chaplain. 

My job is very demanding on all levels; at the same time it is remarkably rewarding. There is tremendous diversity within my day (often within an hour!). One minute I might be offering comfort to an elderly person who is frightened and all alone, the next might find me talking with a nurse or aide who wants prayer for a sick relative. Many patients I visit need help coping with a new diagnosis or end-of-life decisions. Some visits are longer, such as those with patients who are looking back over their lives and want to share their struggles, victories, and accomplishments, as well as the joys or disappointments in their relationships. These visits take time.

Of course there are some patients who also want to talk about their faith or loss of faith, their anger at God, their questions about life after death, the miracles they experienced that confirmed them in their faith or about their desire to do God’s will. I also have patients who cannot speak but are able to radiate their love of Christ. Those visits are like precious jewels.

Often I find that patients and families have losses they need to talk about. Grief tends to surface during a hospital stay. All that I learned from Dr. Al Rossi ‘s classes, seminars, and counseling, has been extremely helpful. Most of my work consists of listening and being present for the person as a witness of Christ’s love. Regularly I hear in my ear Dr. Rossi saying “Listening is love, delivered.” This month I will train as a Grief Recovery Specialist, which will give me additional listening tools.

While taking homiletics classes with Fr. Sergius Halvorsen, I was very frustrated because he and my classmates could not hear my voice when I delivered my practice sermons. I am not a quiet person but I am small, and my voice doesn’t project very well. Father Sergius, knowing I was training as a chaplain, noted to the class that I had an excellent bedside voice, appropriate for my calling. In retrospect, I see he hit the nail on the head. I am a quiet presence at the patient’s bedside, and that’s as it should be. I still give an occasional sermon, though—with a microphone!

MORE about CPE at St. Vladimir's
Seminary strengthens CPE program
Faculty member awarded full CPE certification