Debra Slade Profile
Rev. Debra Slade (Prairies & Magdalen 1981) is the Director of Spiritual Care at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut, and a board-certified chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains. She is also the Assistant Priest at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford, Connecticut. Originally from Canada, she previously taught Law at the University of Chicago and at Columbia University, and also worked for 15 years as a not-for-profit executive in the field of urology. She holds a Master’s in English Literature from the University of Manitoba, a Master’s in Divinity and a Diploma in Anglican Studies from Yale Divinity School, and a Master’s from Oxford University where she read law.
Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?
Debra Slade: I grew up in Winnipeg, which is in Manitoba, Canada. I stayed there until I went to Oxford at 24. Currently, my home is in Ridgefield, Connecticut where I live with my husband and two college-age daughters.
Rhodes Project: What inspired you to go to divinity school after working in another field?
Debra Slade: I was increasingly active as a layperson in my church in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and through it I became involved in prison ministry. First, I hosted children in our home whose mothers were in maximum-security prison, and then I decided to volunteer in the prison hospital. I assisted the prison chaplain, Sister Elaine Roulet, who had been there for many years, founding programs to allow incarcerated women to stay connected to their children. Observing her in her chaplaincy work, her great commitment to ministry and the women she served, helped me to hear my call to become a chaplain and an ordained minister.
Rhodes Project: Is there anything you encounter in your work that you feel is widely misunderstood?
Debra Slade: I think that the role of the chaplain is frequently misunderstood. Unfortunately, many people think we are there to proselytize or convert patients to a particular religion, when, in fact, the role of the chaplain is to be a comforting, compassionate listening presence to those who are in need, regardless of what faith they belong to or if they have any faith. Our role is to be there to walk with them through their times of suffering, and times of joy, and to provide with them with whatever they might need -- to meet them where they are.
Rhodes Project: What’s the most challenging part of being the Director of Spiritual Care?
Debra Slade: Providing spiritual care for people who are going through some form of suffering makes it a very challenging ministry, particularly when adults or children are facing the end of their life, a painful illness or a sudden accident. It can often be hard to walk beside people through those experiences but it can also be extremely gratifying -- a holy experience and a privilege. I am often inspired by the patients who are going through so much but nevertheless seek to find meaning in what they are experiencing. It is also very inspiring to see families caring for their loved ones, and to see the hospital staff’s commitment to their patients. Part of what I do is to teach and mentor student chaplains. This can also be challenging when the student chaplains encounter very difficult patient cases that are outside of anything they have ever done or seen before.
Rhodes Project: In a broader sense, what potential does faith have to effect change in communities in need?
Debra Slade: There are so many things that it does and can do. My perspective is that a person’s faith should not be confined to his or her house of worship. These are wonderful places that provide worship opportunities, fellowship and care to their members, but so much of what we do at my church is taken outside of the building. Through ministry in homeless shelters, soup kitchens, prisons, programs for immigrants, visiting the elderly – that is where you can practice your faith . That’s also true for what you do in your job and everyday life – it’s all about loving God, and loving and helping each other. You see that happen in times of great emergencies. Every faith community I know had members helping out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. There is an important place for faith groups and people of faith in providing help and care in the troubles of the world.
Rhodes Project: What’s the most challenging part of priesthood?
Debra Slade: I think that for most of us, it is the sense that you are never really off duty. It is a vocation, not just a job.
Rhodes Project: Looking back on your career, if you could do it all again knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently?
Debra Slade: I think that if I had known about the potential for women to become ordained as priests when I was growing up in the Anglican Church in Canada, I would have gone into the priesthood earlier. I was very involved in the church as a child and youth, but there were no female mentors for me at the time. Women were not able to be priests till the late 70s and even then, there weren’t that many considering it. I think it would have been an important vocation for me to consider at the very beginning of my university career if I had known about the roles women would soon be able to have in the Anglican and Episcopal Churches in North America.
Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman looking to become a priest?
Debra Slade: I would ask her to really think about which aspect of the ministry she feels most called to and will likely give her the most satisfaction. There is a wonderful quote by the theologian Frederick Buechner that says, “Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I think that those two need to come together, and once you figure that out, if that happens to be ordained ministry or going to seminary, then do that. I see a lot of young women making this decision now and it’s a big responsibility to take on when you’re young. I would encourage a young woman who is considering ordained ministry to think about it very carefully, don’t rush it and don’t feel like you can’t postpone the decision until later in life. However, I would also let her know to continue to keep it in mind if you do other things. I believe that God would also help with the reminder as well! It is wonderful that women can now choose ordained ministry or leadership positions in so many faith groups, but there are still barriers for women in many others.
Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to devote to any one issue, global or local, what would it be and why?
Debra Slade: Coming from the healthcare field, I’d look at the world’s big problems of health, particularly with children. Maternal-child health in so many countries is not where it should be. I believe there is great potential to eradicate diseases and eliminate suffering -- we just need more knowledge, more medical research, more attention paid to those who are unable to speak for themselves.
Rhodes Project: Outside of work, what brings you the most joy in life?
Debra Slade: Definitely being with my family – my husband and daughters. My daughters are 18 and 21 and we do a lot of things together. On the weekends, when everyone is home, we have lunch, usually try to go to movie, just be together and laugh a lot. It doesn’t get better than that.
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