Stefanie Taylor

I have been a chaplain for 13 years now. My first job out of seminary was to be a curate and assistant chaplain. Truthfully, I was not excited about the chaplaincy part. My personal experience in youth ministry was that it was underfunded with unrealistic expectations. The result, for me, was that youth ministry felt overwhelming, lonely, and hopeless. When I became a priest, I never wanted to work in youth ministry again.

However, I quickly learned that school chaplaincy was not the youth ministry of my experience. Schools are funded and supported. Plus, the students are required to be there and more often than not, they love to be in chapel. Chapel is built into their day and doesn’t compete with sleeping in or baseball tournaments. They get to worship freely at school. This newfound world of working with young people also freed me up to answer my call: to be a priest of the world. My ministry was never supposed to belong to the church alone.

I am called to give sacraments to those whom God puts in front of me, whether that be my daughter’s dance teacher, the stranger on the corner, the nurse in the waiting room, or the young people and their families who meet me at school every day. God wants access to them all, and God wants them to feel like they have access to him as well. For many, creed, conformity, and allegiance get in the way of that access. As a school chaplain, I get to highlight the gifts of the church without membership. I get to teach about God from many different lenses, and I get to say prayers over the grave of a person who never set foot in a church; I get to put Christ’s body in hands that have not declared allegiance, and I whisper Christ’s love into the ears of all who want to listen.

For me, school chaplaincy is about that delicate dance that includes both my love and devotion to the church and my love and devotion to those whom God talks about in John 10:16, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

The Rev. Dr. Stefanie Taylor is Head Chaplain at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School (Atlanta, GA).