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Amen, sister

Pastor brings fresh perspective, humor to Brooksby congregation

Created date

November 22nd, 2011

Reverend Emily Chandler was semi-retired when she learned that her friend Reverend Ann Abernethy, the Protestant pastor at Brooksby in Peabody, Mass., would be retiring. Chandler had preached the Erickson Living community s Sunday service a few times over the previous three years and had grown to know and appreciate the congregation s spirit and energy. It hit me like a thunderbolt: I thought maybe I ought to go for that, Chandler remembers. She sent a letter of interest, and from there, she says, It sort of took off like a meteor.

Body, mind, and soul

Rich Byrne, Brooksby s pastoral ministries manager, recalls the scene in the community s chapel at the beginning of Abernethy s last service. Protestant Council Chairperson Betty Johnson, who lives at the community, announced Chandler s appointment as Abernethy s replacement. Once Betty spoke Emily s name, the congregation broke into loud, spontaneous applause, Byrne says. Reverend Chandler brings with her a rich history in theology and nursing. I started with bodies, I went to minds, and I ended up with souls, she explains. Chandler holds a doctorate in theology and personality, a master of divinity degree, and a master s in psychiatric nursing. Between teaching most recently at Massachusetts General Hospital s Institute of Health Professions and offering clinical and spiritual guidance, she muses, I often felt that I was nursing the church and ministering in the hospital. Chandler s doctoral research focused on the benefits of prayer to the faith and well-being of older adults. She emphasizes the importance of sensory spirituality as people age and their senses fade. Spirituality has a characteristic that s more interior than exterior, she says, adding that spirituality can be achieved through religion as well as through art, music, and nature. Brooksby s Protestant community is 150 members strong and includes a dedicated choir of people living in the community. The Sunday morning Protestant service is just one of a number of spiritual opportunities at Brooksby, which also hosts established Catholic and Jewish communities. There s a potential for intimacy that is really extraordinary, Chandler says of her role at Brooksby, where she has the chance to meet people where they live and worship. In addition to preaching on Sundays, Chandler conducts home and hospital visits and regular counseling to those living at Brooksby.

Committed communicator

In one of her first services since beginning her new role at Brooksby, Chandler speaks with her signature energy, confidence, and humor so appreciated by her congregants. In my house there were more than ten commandments; there was an epilogue, Chandler says, receiving hearty laughter from listeners. But in a more serious tone, she highlights that while promises are difficult to keep, the Bible only lists eight thou shall not statements, leaving a world of opportunity for what can be done. I can be extremely serious, and I am profoundly committed to what I believe and what I do, but I think people need lightness. They need to be lifted up, Chandler explains after the service. There s no question she s going to fit like a glove, says Helen Millican, who lives at Brooksby and volunteers in the chapel. You d never know that she wasn t here all along. During services, Chandler makes an effort to connect with congregants sitting in the chapel as well as those watching on their home televisions. Chandler also stresses the importance of communication beyond traditional means. She embraces social media channels like Twitter and co-led a recent Brooksby workshop on using the iPad, Apple s tablet computer. This month Chandler will partake in the special services of Advent and Christmas. I love the idea that in the deep of winter we share all this candlelight and warmth and imagery, she says, adding that this year is unique because Christmas falls on a Sunday. True to her style, Chandler remains optimistic about her new role and the congregation, saying, I want to get to know them, I want to be present with them, and I want people to be happy with their Protestant congregation.