Historically, women have had to carve spaces for themselves in a society that hasn’t always welcomed their inclusion. In a world that isn’t eager to make room for you, there is no other choice but to fearlessly inhabit these typically patriarchal spaces and make them your own. In honor of Women’s History Month, we highlight the Chaplains at Pacific Health Ministry (PHM) who are trailblazing a way, a means of success, for many women who are to come after. A special thanks to PHM Executive Director, the Rev. Anke Flohr, and PHM staff Chaplains, the Rev. Grace Lee, and the Rev. Lena Ann Keanu-Reichel for sharing their stories.

In a 1960s census by sociologist Wilbur Bock, women made up only 2.3 percent of U.S. clergy. In the ensuing decades that would define and influence modern-day feminism, Rev. Flohr recounts the 1980s with extraordinary vividness. She remembers the theologians who would reconstruct the church’s “strong patriarchal” identity during a time marked by women’s struggle in the name of visibility and equality. As she recounts, “those were years of activism for me . . . I have been involved for decades locally, in my national organizations, and with the World Council of Churches (WCC) to make a difference.”

The push for change that has defined Rev. Flohr’ s life is most evident in her career path as a Chaplain. When a severe accident left her hospitalized for weeks as a teen, the experience of isolation and loneliness propelled her into a life of spiritual and emotional service. “At that time, there were no chaplains in the hospital to offer emotional and spiritual support. I had just entered the university on the path to becoming a minister. After completing my studies, I worked in the church first. I then specialized in hospital chaplaincy 16 years after my accident in the hope to support others as they were going through traumatic hospital experiences, coping with illness, and finding the strength to continue.”

There is something inherent about marginalized communities’ experiences, defined by trauma and adversity, which calls for a level of strength and poise that is incomprehensible considering the odds. Perhaps this tradition of resilience is one best learned and modeled through the educational history of those who have come before. Chaplain Keanu-Reichel finds her power by looking to her “ancestors who survived colonization and cultural genocide.” Noting the women who came before her, she lists Queen Liliʽuokalani and Ruth Keʽelikōlani as two of her most significant influences; not only for their grace but also their unwillingness to venture from the essence of who they were.

Despite the painfully gradual pace that marks women’s involvement in ministry, there is still much progress to be made. According to a 2016 American Communities Survey Census, 20.7% of professional clergy in the U.S. were women; a statistic that illustrates the disparity among genders but fails to encompass the often-colorful experiences of women. Chaplain Keanu-Reichel recalls having to prove her worth to others who discounted her because of her identity, something universally expressed by others aiming to make these spaces home. As she notes, “It is okay if some do not want your services, there will be others for whom your ministry will be a balm to their soul. Pace yourself.”

For some, the inspiration to become a Chaplain hits closer to home. In seeing the strength and inherent goodness in female role models within the household, Chaplain Lee thanks her mother for instilling the virtues necessary for a career like hers. “My mother has been a big influence. She genuinely cared for others without judgment and with loving-kindness. That’s what I try to bring with me every visit.”

There is a level of emotional intimacy that defines Rev. Lee’s work, which requires a significant level of empathy and compassion. These qualities in which she has made it her mission to embody are noteworthy for the level of care they suggest. Having the opportunity to share advice with her younger self, she explains her desire to let that young woman know that the struggles she has been through will not be in vain. “I would tell her that the most painful parts of her journey will be redeemed, and provide her the tools she needs to the person she is today,” Chaplain Lee says.

Looking toward the future, there is hope that diversity will continue to intersect itself into this space. This goal of course is made increasingly possible by the stories of these three spiritual leaders. It is with deep gratitude and respect that their stories are laid bare in this article as a testament to their resilience, strength, and the hope they have instilled in others through their life of service.