05 Sep Not your typical chaplain
With flowing curly locks, detailed tattoos and a love for vintage fashion, Caitlin Kensey Scott, is not what you might expect of a chaplain. But the 30-year-old from Massachusetts, is happy to challenge the stereotypes of what it means to live a spiritual life.
Caitlin’s Sydney-based job is as diverse as her personality. On any given day she could be visiting a resident in a Uniting homeless shelter, carrying out a memorial service for relatives and friends of a client who has passed away, or addressing a crowd gathered to hear about drug law reform in Australia.
“Chaplaincy work has moved on a lot from being someone to visit aged care residents or people who are gravely sick in hospital,” says the Ella Fitzgerald fan.
“These days I’m just as likely to be looking at social justice issues and helping a vast range of people.”
Caitlin’s love of social justice work is woven into the tapestry of her life. Before moving half way across the world in 2015, Caitlin worked for Riverside Church in Harlem, New York – the site of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous address in opposition of the Vietnam War.
Now she works with Uniting clients and team members across a range of Uniting initiatives – including services that help vulnerable families stay together and the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (Uniting MSIC) – and plays an active role in events and projects that celebrate diversity and LGBTI inclusion throughout the year.
Caitlin even met then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Garma Festival in NT, which she attended in order to support Aboriginal service development for Uniting.
“It was a truly spiritual experience to venture into the outback and learn about how we can try to get constitutional recognition for Aboriginal communities,” recounts Caitlin. “Knowing that I was alongside someone in a position of power to change the country made it even more special.”
More recently, Caitlin has been an active supporter of the Uniting drug law reform campaign.
“It’s about challenging current laws that only serve to drive those in most need further into the shadows of society,” says Caitlin of the campaign. “By trying to see drug usage as a health problem instead of a crime problem, we can really start to help these people.”
Caitlin admits that many people are surprised to learn her profession.
“Some people are a bit confused when I tell them what I do. Some don’t know what a chaplain does. I’ve been asked the question, ‘Am I dying?’ when I’ve told people I’m a Uniting chaplain who has come to visit them,” she laughs. “I had to do a lot of reassuring very quickly.”
“Some are a bit suspicious that I’ll start preaching to them but I also have a lot of people who are genuinely curious.”
“I think people are put off by the idea of religion. But I want people to understand there are no limitations when it comes to spirituality. There is a new form of spirituality that’s emerging – one that goes beyond a church building – and what I am doing is living proof of that. We need to find a new language to explain the new way of thinking, one that is not caught up in traditional ideologies.”
To Caitlin, taking care of our spiritual sides – whether you’re a person who identifies it in it in a religious sense or not – is just as important as physical health. Despite it not always being an easy job, Caitlin says she’s truly privileged to do it.
“My job is not about me or about pushing an agenda. What I do is offer my help and wait for a response from people. It’s really wonderful when they accept,” she says. “Everything we do is backed by the Uniting philosophy that we accept everyone exactly as they are. We’re just here to listen and offer whatever help we can.”
For more information on chaplaincy at Uniting, visit our spiritual and pastoral care page.