One of my favorite ways of exploring the essential nature of things is to study the origins of significant words. For instance, when I accepted the position of Temporary Chaplain for the Presbytery, I researched the etymology of the word “chaplain”. I was enlightened by what I discovered. The word is rooted in the Latin word, capella, which means chapel or, more literally, “little cape.” By tradition the word “chapel” refers particularly to the sanctuary in France in which the miraculous cape of St. Martin of Tours is preserved. According to this tradition, while Martin was serving as a Roman soldier in Gaul, he cut his military cape in two and shared half with a beggar who had no cloak. That night Martin dreamed that Christ was the beggar, wearing the half cape Martin had given him. The other half of the cape became the relic which is kept in the chapel.

This story enriched my understanding of the call to chaplaincy. When I visit the ministers in this Presbytery, I think about carrying the cape of St. Martin and offering this cape to them. In this way I prepare myself to be open to the Presence of Christ in the ministers I meet. I have the privilege of experiencing the light of Christ within them. I am also bringing the warmth and care of this little cape to those who are called to the challenging work of being ministers of word and sacrament in their communities.

A friend of mine gave me an additional insight about carrying this little cape. She said it brought to mind a story about St. Brigid in Ireland. According to legend, Brigid asked the King of Leinster to give her land for her monastery. He agreed to give her whatever land her cloak could cover. To everyone’s astonishment Brigid’s cloak spread across the Plains of Curragh. Her monastery is there, in Kildare, to this day. A custom arose from this legend. People would place a piece of cloth outside on the eve of Brigid’s feast day to aid fertility and healing. “May you be under Brigid’s mantle” is an ancient Irish blessing on this feast day.

As a chaplain I think about this cape of healing and new life as I travel to the different corners of our Presbytery. I am spreading the cape from Schoharie to Northville to Glens Falls, from Hebron to Troy to Hudson and to all the places around and in between. Through this chaplaincy may I provide the kind of care that connects the people and churches of this Presbytery to each other, under our shared Presbyterian mantle.

To all those I have visited, I’m grateful for our rich conversations and moments of prayer. To those I have yet to visit, know that you’re in my thoughts. This little cape of care and healing extends to all of you. Please feel free to call me about any concern or simply to arrange a date for tea and conversation.

Blessings and peace,
Beth

About Rev. Beth Illingworth

Beth has been a member of Albany Presbytery since 1989 and comes from a long line of Presbyterian ministers. She is the first woman to be ordained into her family’s profession. Beth lives with her husband, Paul Greene, in Kinderhook, New York and they have two grown children, their daughter, Julian, and their son, Isaiah. Beth is currently serving as the Temporary Chaplain of Albany Presbytery and she may be reached at chaplain@albanypresbytery.org or by phone at 518-821-7990.

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