Molly Bolton (2010 BA in English, MDiv 2014)

Staff Chaplain at Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio

Tell us about your current job role and employer. What are you currently working on?

headshot of Molly Bolton

I work three days a week as a staff chaplain at Cleveland Clinic Fairview, a regional hospital that is part of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. I am a clergyperson ordained in my own tradition who provides spiritual and emotional support to people of any or no faith tradition in a clinical setting. In my current role, I spend much of my time preparing and leading Spiritual Care Groups for the Pediatric and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit. In these groups, I use poetry, art-making, play, and mindfulness to offer consolation and coping skills to young patients. My other time as a chaplain is committed to being on-call, which means I respond to urgent spiritual care needs such as end-of-life care, pregnancy loss, and emotional support for staff.

I am also self-employed as a spiritual director and spiritual care educator. As a spiritual director, I companion people as they seek to grow spiritually. I also teach classes and lead groups on using poetry as a tool for spiritual care. I am currently working on taking my poetry-writing practice seriously and figuring out the new (life-giving!) balance of being a part-time chaplain and being part-time self-employed.

What key personal and/or career experiences led you to where you are today?
A little while after my sister had a miscarriage, she and I worked together to create a ritual to honor her grief. We included her spouse and expanded the ritual by inviting some of her friends who were experiencing grief from miscarriage and pregnancy loss too. We had a small service with candles, flowers, and reflections on her back porch. Through this ritual, I experienced how meaningful it can be for us to create these embodied and compassionate spaces for one another. I understood in a new way how my passions — centralizing the experiences of women and LGBTQ+ persons, being with people authentically, creative expression, experiencing the healing wisdom of a community — can come together in the art of spiritual care.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you navigate that challenge?

The most challenging aspect of my job is witnessing the way systemic oppression manifests in suffering in individuals’ lives. For example, working routinely with young people in the psychiatric unit leads me to ask questions such as “what have we done to the world that so many young people are experiencing such devastating anxiety and depression?”. I navigate this challenge by practicing the cultivation of hope and through discerning what I *can* do. Reading the work of sages and radicals, practicing meditation, working to undo my own racism, practicing yoga, listening to the young patients I am with today, being an advocate for justice in my corner of the world — these things that I *can* do. These are the things that help me cultivate hope.

What advice would you give to Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?

Chaplains & spiritual directors hesitate to give advice. We prefer that you become curious about your own Inner Wisdom and your own sense of calling. So I guess that’s my advice — become still enough to notice your heart’s desires. Here are some practical tips for doing that:

We know that relationships are important for any kind of development. How do you build and maintain your network?

Have you ever heard that the best way to make a friend is to be a good friend? I do my best to be a good colleague and collaborator. This means learning how to mindfully give and receive feedback, taking responsibility for what is mine to do, giving credit where it is due, noticing how my way of being in the world impacts other people, and learning how to have a sense of perspective.

My life is richer because of my relationships with bioethicists, social workers, poets, hospice caregivers, educators, sage spiritual directors, and advocates. Though we have different areas of expertise and different roles, we all desire for people to be compassionately cared for, which means we have a shared sense of purpose. I have found that if I am mindful about being a kind colleague, and if my colleagues and I have a shared sense of purpose, then the network maintains itself.

Tell us about your mentoring relationships. What impact have these relationships had on your career and life?

There is a poem by John Fox that begins “When someone deeply listens to you it is like holding out a dented cup you’ve had since childhood and watching it fill up with cold, fresh water.” The magic of being deeply listened to by my teachers and supervisors — Chris Copeland, Mark Jensen, Kelly Carpenter, Daeseop Yi — has allowed me to name and honor my own journey. It has invited me to be one who learns the art of listening deeply. Also, the example of women who boldly and compassionately plant their gifts in the world — Jill Crainshaw, Wendy Farley, Kim Langley, Michelle Voss Roberts — has given me the courage to do the same.

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are interested in working in your industry?

I have found that nurturing my own spiritual practices, along with being a part of a compassionate community are the most important aspects to flourishing as a spiritual care provider. Reading works by anti-racist authors and scholars of color has also proven invaluable.

What’s next for your career? What future goals or plans are you pursuing?

Teaching is one of my favorite aspects of my vocation. I would love to grow my ability to offer group spiritual direction, lead retreats, and teach workshops on topics such as grief, poetry, and spiritual practices.

Story published in March 2020. For current updates about Molly, visit her LinkedIn page.