“I Was Sick, and You Visited Me”
October 25, 2022
A shorter version of this article appeared in the Fall 2022 edition of Aware Magazine.
Reverend Dr. Stephanie A. Welsh (G-ETS 2012) served as pastor in the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church for more than eight years. During her time in pastoral ministry, she amassed several significant accomplishments, including saving the historic Israel CME Church in Gary, Indiana, from foreclosure.
Although she enjoyed pastoral ministry, much of her work at Israel CME Church focused on ensuring the church had the funds necessary to pay bills and apportionments. “I felt like I was doing more fundraising than ministry,” she said.
Instead, Welsh said she wanted to more closely follow Jesus’s mission to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the sick.
So, in 2014, she started clinical pastoral education training to become a chaplain. Now, board certified, she serves as the spiritual care manager at Loyola University Medical Center, a 547-bed quaternary care facility in Maywood, Illinois, where she leads a team of 11 while providing spiritual care to patients.
Before joining Loyola in June of 2021, she served nearly six years as a chaplain at the University of Chicago Medicine, supporting the trauma patient population as well as the burn, neurological, surgical, cardiac, and neonatal intensive care units.
Welsh’s road to ministry and then chaplaincy wasn’t straightforward.
She grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and graduated in 1992 from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in African American studies. During this time, she attended St. Matthew CME Church in Milwaukee. The pastor there kept reminding Welsh about her call to ministry–one she received when she was eight. “I was fully aware of my call,” she said, “but I was essentially running away from it.”
She stopped running a few years later after attending a revival at her church. “The preacher leading the revival had a prophetic ministry,” she remembered. “During the revival he announced, ‘There are some people here who have a call to ministry upon their lives, and they’ve been running away.’”
At that point, the preacher looked straight at Welsh. “I looked behind me because I thought he must have been talking to the person behind me, and he said, ‘No, no, I am talking to you,’” she said.
Later, she met with her pastor and trained to become a local preacher under his tutelage. She also started taking classes through Trinity International Divinity School at its satellite location in nearby Brookfield, Wisconsin.
When she moved to the Chicagoland area in 1997, she paused her coursework to focus on her career in human resources. A few years later, she left the CME church and started attending Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago–not confessing to the pastor that she had a call on her life.
A visit to her grandmother’s home in Mississippi reminded her of her calling. One day, her grandmother asked her when she was going to get back into ministry. Welsh insisted that she was participating in ministries at the church she currently attended. “No, that is not what I am asking you,” her grandmother said. “You’ve been called to preach. When are you going to start back preaching?”
Welsh went back to the CME church, started the ordination process, and became a deacon in 2008. In the fall of 2009, she started attending Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. While at Garrett-Evangelical, she became an ordained elder in the CME church and was appointed to serve as pastor of the St. James CME Church in Chicago Heights, Illinois–all while taking classes full time. “I have no idea how I managed that,” she recalled. “But I felt like I left Garrett-Evangelical well equipped to do the work of ministry.”
After graduating in 2012, Welsh’s bishop asked her to become the pastor of Israel CME Church in Gary, Indiana–a church, she later found out, was facing foreclosure. While there, she negotiated with Israel’s lender to save the church from foreclosure. Additionally, she helped the church significantly pay down its original $400,000 mortgage, pay off its bus, reduce its debt by more than 65 percent, and arrange for the former 10,000 square-foot place of worship to be torn down, among other things.
In 2014, Welsh began to think about what’s next. “I felt that I had done what I was sent to do at the church,” she said. She also began thinking about making a change and becoming a chaplain full time. “When we think about Jesus’s mission, we think about clothing the naked and feeding the hungry,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I had had the opportunity to do that.”
She continued to serve Israel CME Church, but at the same time, she completed four units of clinical pastoral education at Northwestern Medicine and later began working as a full-time chaplain at the University of Chicago Medicine in Hyde Park, Illinois. She also began a doctor of ministry program at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. “Things were a little complicated,” she said about those years. Finally, in 2018, she left Israel CME Church and continued her chaplaincy work at the University of Chicago Medicine, where she worked for six years.
While there, Welsh received the University of Chicago Medicine Making a Difference Award for the care she provided to a trauma patient, their family, and the staff. In 2020, she was among three chaplains featured in the CNN article, “Hospital Chaplains Are Bridging the Gap between Patients and Their Grieving Families Who Can’t Stay by Their Bedside During the Coronavirus Pandemic.”
In December 2021, Welsh finished her doctorate and graduated with distinction. While completing her doctoral studies, she authored a chapter in the book, Hating Girls.
Currently, she serves as the spiritual care manager at Loyola University Medical Center. She said she loves spending time with patients and helping them cope with their illness. “In this position, I am able to visit and minister to the sick each day,” she said.
For now, Welsh said she is content serving in ministry as a chaplain and associate minister, even though she doesn’t rule out returning to pastoral ministry should the spirit of God so lead.