Listening for a new move of God

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

Penny NaugleWhen Penny Naugle announced she was retiring after ten years as an elementary principal at Penn View Christian School in Souderton (Pa.) to become a chaplain, the teachers weren’t surprised.

“Well, duh,” one responded, “That’s what you do to us.”

If there is a usual path to chaplaincy work, Naugle didn’t follow it. She has taught in Christian schools for over 30 years, including Johnstown Christian in Hollsopple, Pennsylvania; Lake Center Christian School in Hartville, Ohio; and Bluffton College—now a university—in Bluffton, Ohio. Hoping to work at the college level, she earned a master’s degree from Kent State and completed a dissertation while teaching at Bluffton. After Bluffton, hoping to be closer to grandchildren, she accepted the job at Penn View.

About three years ago, over a lunch with a pastor friend, chaplaincy training came into the conversation. Naugle doesn’t remember what prompted it, just the thought that popped into her head: “I’d love to take that!”

The training in clinical pastoral education, which required her to work in a hospital, she says, was “a pure delight.”

For Naugle, ministry has always been an important aspect of her work. She knew early on she was being called to work in Christian education, and it became clear in recent years that she was being called towards chaplaincy.

And at a time when many of her peers are looking towards retirement, Naugle knew she wasn’t ready to slow down, but that she needed a new focus to re-energize her, and a balance in her life that the long hours spent at her work had not permitted.

She resigned her job without a clear path, knowing God was inviting her to step out.

“It really felt that God was pulling me in that new direction,” Naugle says.  “I have said this to my teachers over the years, I always think we should never feel trapped where we are; we should feel called where we are, and we need to keep our eyes and noses and ears up above the fray to see what else is there.”

Now, she’s a chaplain at Rockhill Mennonite Community in Sellersville (Pa.).

Naugle’s primary area of visitation is in nursing, which means that she visits all residents in the hospital, and follows up with them when they arrive home. Part of her work also involves what’s known as “cold calling,” or dropping in on residents without scheduling a visit in advance. Some chaplains have found this intimidating or un-energizing, but Naugle says it can open up incredible exchanges with people who have long and eloquent things to say about their lives.

For Naugle, she’s increasingly interested in spiritual direction, too, and the importance not only of prayer but also of listening for God.

Not to always be looking for something new, she says, “but to be aware of new possibilities so that we can say, ‘We’re here because it is where God has called us to be.’ Or, ‘Is there new space where I could be excited about it?’ If we are too narrow in our sights we might miss those opportunities.”