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Sheri J. Ray has traveled a circuitous path to what is considered a pioneering corporate chaplaincy position.
As a student at Central Bible College, Ray began visiting residents of a nursing home and pediatrics patients in a hospital as a natural expression of her Christian faith and church involvement.
But her voluntary hospital chaplaincy efforts came to an abrupt end when she encountered a 13-year-old gunshot wound victim and realized she didn’t have the training to deal with it.
Several years later, Ray volunteered at Cox Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, in an effort to discern a calling to professional chaplaincy. Upon the recommendation of the volunteer coordinator — an Assemblies of God chaplain — Ray applied for and gained acceptance into the yearlong Clinical Pastoral Education program at St. John's (now Mercy) Hospital.
The fact that she already had obtained AG ministry credentials proved beneficial to entering this spiritually formative, though challenging clinical training. Toward the completion of that program, Mercy hired Ray as a staff chaplain. More than a year later, Ray embarked on the Master of Divinity program at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. She completed that degree while working evenings and weekends at the hospital.
“This is not the usual trajectory for becoming a chaplain,” Ray says. “Typically one obtains the degree, becomes ordained, enters CPE, then finds a ministry role as chaplain.”
Soon after she started her seven-year stretch at the hospital’s level one trauma center, Ray became an endorsed AG U.S. Missions chaplain.
The rewarding chaplaincy stint ended in 2013 when her husband, Tony, a graduate of Evangel University, transferred to Nashville, Tennessee, for a new international logistics job.
Ray relinquished her career path to God, and learned patience by waiting for clear direction for more than a year and a half. Although not on Ray’s radar, an international secular research and development firm offered her a ministry position providing pastoral care for 490 employees and their families.
While she travels regularly to seven company locations throughout Kentucky and Tennessee, much of her ministry occurs via video chats, phone calls, and texting. The job, which is hardly of the 9 to 5 variety, requires her to also provide spiritual care for employees in Brazil and the United Kingdom.
Ray, 52, works with a wide variety of employees, from drug addicts and former felons to highly educated international scientists. She also offers chaplain services to people from other major world religions, as well as “cultural Christians” who confuse church membership with a personal relationship with Jesus. She likewise must deal with a rural Appalachian culture — in some counties where no Assemblies of God churches exist and residents often are reluctant to share struggles with a female religious figure. She has to earn trust in order to gain influence in the lives of some of these people.
Carolyn Tennant has watched Ray’s development as a chaplain from her early days at AGTS to her current role as adviser for Ray’s Doctorate in Ministry project. The new corporate assignment is more unusual and challenging, but it allows Ray to draw upon the insights she gained as a hospital chaplain, Tennant believes.
“The shift has taken her inherent caring and supporting qualities into a different and more diverse context,” Tennant says. “There is more time to build relationships than in a momentary hospital encounter. There is a need to continue to help people to grow, almost to the degree of a pastor in a congregation.”
Tennant categorizes Ray as a caring, intelligent, and spiritually insightful chaplain who relies on prayer.
As a Pentecostal chaplain, Ray says her primary focus is to acknowledge and cooperate with however the Holy Spirit is working in someone’s life and circumstance.
“God has already initiated an ongoing conversation with each person,” Ray says. “As a chaplain, I have the opportunity to respectfully and reverently join that conversation. God’s process is to demonstrate the transforming power of His love for us as He reaches to redeem our lives through Christ.”
IMAGE - Chaplain Sheri Ray (left) talks with an employee in the workplace