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The Office of Religious & Spiritual Life. Photo by Katelynn Carver

My path to Harvard Divinity School was circuitous at best. Waylaid from my eager graduate school plans after college, I found myself falling in love and getting married, spending several years taking care of my terminally ill mother, and getting further entrenched in Buddhist practice. While I loved my job working with college students at my alma mater, I knew that somewhere between Buddhism and counseling there was another career path waiting for me. I poured myself into researching social work programs, although I knew in the back of my mind that my main interest in counseling was the hope of applying mindfulness practices to the therapeutic setting. When I found HDS, I felt like I had finally found a program that would let me be more honest in the work I wanted to do, allowing the foundation of my work going forward to be grounded in the Dharma. But Buddhist ministry? I had never heard of that before; I figured that must mean something like “applied Buddhism,” or so I convinced myself. Not having grown up in a faith community, I didn’t know that ministry could be anything besides Christian, or done from anywhere besides a pulpit. I was just excited about the opportunity to combine meditation and work with the sick and dying, no matter what that was called.

Application season came and went and before I knew it my life in North Carolina was packed into a truck, and my husband and cat and I made the long drive to Cambridge. Still I told myself I was going to be doing “applied Buddhism,” yet as the weeks rolled by in my first semester I slowly came to see that all of my interests—in creating a more just society, in the quiet inner life, in learning and service and standing alongside those who are suffering—all of this coalesced in that fuzzy term, ministry. I began to see the big net cast by this word and that the work of my heart and hands was welcome there. I began to feel at home when professors encouraged us to see ministry in the work of people like Gandhi and Dorothy Day, and when I realized that each colleague in this program—from every denomination—came with their own aspirations, foundations, strengths, and interests. This beautiful array of fellow students helped me see that I wasn’t going to need to worry about following anyone else’s ministry playbook but my own. I have, indeed, begun to learn new ways of applying Buddhism to my work with others, but I also know there is a web of support here that understands ministry as a multi-faceted vocation open to all faiths. Finding a home in Buddhist ministry at HDS has meant finding a network of colleagues and instructors who both inspire and sustain.

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