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Chaplain helps mental health clients "find their voice'

Chaplain helps mental health clients "find their voice'

March 28th, 2011 in News

Contributed photo: Overton T. Harris poses with his daughter Helen Logan after she recently finished her final presbytery exam.

Those who knew Helen Logan well were not surprised when she first felt the call, 15 years ago, to join the ministry.

Nor were they surprised when she returned to school in 2004 - after 27 years of working with her family at The Callaway Bank - as a first step toward achieving that goal.

"She's always been kind of social-minded; that's just the kind of mindset she's had forever - helping somebody else," said Logan's father, Overton T. Harris. "She's a very thoughtful person and she has a particular knack for understanding other people and their problems."

"I wasn't particularly surprised. She's very caring and she did well in seminary," agreed Cecil Culverhouse, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fulton, the church in which Logan grew up.

Today, Logan finally will be ordained during a special 3 p.m. service at First Presbyterian Church.

The Fulton native said her seven-year journey to become a Presbyterian minister was started after a number of conversations with ministers at her home parish.

"I had a great feeling the ministry was something I could do, and did feel a calling to do, particularly chaplaincy in a hospital," Logan said.

The first step was finishing her undergraduate degree at Guilfurd College in Greensboro, NC, where she had moved with her husband for his job. At the same time, she worked toward completing five units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at a medical hospital, where she learned the ministry by shadowing the chaplain there.

Upon completing her undergraduate studies and finishing her CPE, Logan attended Wake Forest University, where she graduated with her master of divinity in 2009. When she was sending out resumes in the spring of 2009, the former Callaway Memorial Hospital candy striper and volunteer with the Fulton State Hospital chaplain's department, said she really had no intention of going into the mental health field. But after FSH Chaplain Jane Smith - whom Logan said has served as a mentor over the past 10 years - pointed out an opening at St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, she reconsidered.

"As it turned out, the job just kind of landed in my lap," Logan said of her position as chaplain at the rehabilitation center over the past two years. "It's a wonderful ministry. I absolutely adore the people I work with there. It's a great place to be.

"The opportunities for ministry there are so rich, and I get to work with people that have really been broken by mental illness."

Logan's duties include working with the treatment teams "to make sure that patients' spirituality stays a part of their story ... that their spiritual needs are considered," and providing religious services and she also conducts a Bible study. A lot of her time, however, is spent working with clients in the Respect program - created by Smith - through which the clients go out into the community to share their stories.

"They tell their story and through that help to break down the stigma of mental health," Logan said. "It's very brave of them ... they really do make such a difference every day."

Even after almost two years, she said it is hard to choose her favorite aspect of her job.

"The honeymoon period is still going strong. I always feel very fulfilled at the end of every day," Logan said. "It's a humbling experience. I really just love everything I do there."

She said she tries every day to be available to staff and clients.

"It's just really important to go in with a good attitude and really hear people and listen to what they have to say," Logan said, noting the biggest challenge is that, "You have to hear hard things sometimes ... you can't pity these folks, you just need to kind of walk with them and be amazed at their courage."

Smith said Logan - despite her initial reservations - definitely has the characteristics necessary to be a good chaplain in the mental health industry.

"I think she's better suited to being a mental health chaplain than she thought," Smith said. "Working in mental health takes a really deep belief in the people - that there's somebody in there that is loved and is lovable, and I think she has that.

"She's a really good advocate helping clients find their voice and speak of who they are, to claim their own lives and make good choices and move on, she's a great encourager. That's sacred stuff."

As she prepared to come home to Fulton for her ordination service this weekend, Logan said she is excited for the final step in her quest to become a minister.

"It will be amazing to be back in my home church with so many people who had a hand in shaping me as I grew up," Logan said. "I'm looking forward to lots of connection, lots of family and lots of friends."