The Reverend Jonathan Chesney, Holy Communion’s new associate rector, will arrive in October as both a newlywed and a member of the clergy with four times the required credentials in clinical pastoral care training.
This summer, he’s wrapping a year of intense training as a resident at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where he is the chaplain for the emergency room and orthopedic care.
When he arrives in Memphis, Chesney, 35, will be one of a tiny percent of Episcopal priests with enough background in clinical pastoral education to pursue board certification, which requires four units of training.
Ordination usually requires one.
“Jonathan has a sweetness and depth of spirit that put me instantly at ease,” said Father Sandy. “He gave me the confidence he would serve well at Holy Communion. His exceptional training in pastoral care brings the resources we need to take our large and tenured pastoral care ministry to the next level.”
The volunteer-driven program at CHC is at least 15 years old and was revamped under the Reverend Benjamin Badgett.
“Jonathan’s training will bring extensive resources as we keep the best of what we have and add new components,” Sandy said.
Chesney says in-depth training in pastoral are “has radically changed” the trajectory of his ability to be a pastor, noting that he noticed the power of skilled pastoral care while he was associate rector under the Reverend Geoffrey Evans at Holy Trinity in Auburn, Alabama. (Evans and Father Sandy were seminary classmates.)
“I could see him building relationships and his initiative in making connections. It’s not rocket science, but it is time spent and intention. Through it, I could see how much Holy Trinity as a parish grew in strength and relationships,” Chesney said.
“The connections become like a spiderweb that crisscrosses the whole church. Strong pastoral care becomes the glue that helps bind the church together and helps it stick together in the midst of challenges,” Chesney said. “The more we know each other, we more we are able to share experiences of faith and see it through someone else’s eyes.”
“It can be hard to maintain a sense of God’s love for us in dark times. The more relationships there are, while it doesn’t make it easier, it spreads the weight out a little.”
As a hospital chaplain resident, his example is two patients with identical diagnoses.
“The one that has a supportive family, friends - church or community – it’s night and day in their ability to cope.”
Chesney left Auburn a year ago to pursue three additional units of clinical pastoral education.
He will fill the associate rector’s opening left when Benjamin Badgett and his family left in late January.
Chesney will spend half of his time on pastoral care, including heading the teams of volunteers who do much of the work. The rest of workweek will be equally divided between preaching, leading liturgy and being the clergy connection to the youth ministry team.
He was born in Virginia and lived in several places on the East Coast before his family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, when he was in middle school.
“It is the place that feels like home,” Chesney said.
Chesney graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2014. He came to ministry through youth ministry. He served four years as head of youth ministries at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Montgomery, Alabama.
He earned his undergraduate degree at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
He and Alison Marie Papp will marry this fall and move to Memphis soon after.
Papp’s background is in secondary education, social services and environmental/agricultural education. In Alabama, she directed the Farm School at Camp McDowell, promoting agriculture and sustainable food practices.