Four years ago, Sarah Hoogendoorn pulled out of the ministerial candidacy process. She had acquired her Masters of Divinity degree and had begun working at a church in Alberta but then discovered that she was not called to church ministry.
Discouraged and uncertain, Hoogendoorn took a hiatus from ministry and moved back home to South Dakota to live with her parents. She didn’t realize the new path to ministry that God had in store for her.
“(It was) probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Hoogendoorn said about her decision. “I had been working toward candidacy for so long, and I felt like I was not only failing myself but also letting down all the people who had supported me along the way.”
Hoogendoorn credits her family and church for helping her find another path. After moving back home, she became a janitor at her parents’ church and assisted in leading the youth group there. Through this, Hoogendoorn met many new people from different ministries within the church.
“Through those people, God reminded me that I am called into gospel ministry, that I am passionate about God’s kingdom, and that I have been gifted to engage with people on deep levels,” she said.
Hoogendoorn began a yearlong residency in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at the Sioux Falls Veterans Affairs Medical Center. This was her first real exposure to chaplaincy, and she quickly discovered that she had a gift for ministering to veterans.
“One thing I like,” she explained, “is that veterans have a rough edge to them. They are so willing to examine their sin, to lay it out on the table and really explore it, and have a deep desire to change their way of being.”
The year of CPE was affirming and enlightening for Hoogendoorn. After her residency ended, she took a job as a full-time chaplain at the VA center. She has since become an endorsed chaplain and was officially ordained as a minister of the Word in May 2018.
Hoogendoorn is the first woman to be ordained in Classis Iakota. While not everyone in her church believed that she should become ordained, many still supported her through interaction, encouragement, and prayer. She has found this support to be incredibly meaningful and inspirational in her ministry. These forms of support are a reminder that even though church members might not agree on everything, they can rest in the same faith.
“I’ve been called by God into this ministry of chaplaincy, and this call has been affirmed externally by my church, my family, my friends, and by the denomination,” she said. “I remind myself of the good work I engage in on a daily basis and how I see God’s hand in it.”
In addition to being a chaplain, Hoogendoorn is currently in the three- to five-year process of becoming a certified educator for CPE students. She is training others—many of them older than her—to understand themselves, analyze the spiritual care they provide, and deepen the theology with which they minister.
While Hoogendoorn’s ordination did not follow the path she originally thought it would, she recognizes God’s hand in the process and the value she and other chaplains provide to the denomination. In a time when fewer people are attending Sunday morning church services, there is a great need for ministers who can bring the grace of Christ to non-traditional places. Through the support of chaplains such as Hoogendoorn, the church is developing leaders to meet these needs.