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Charlotte White
Graduated: 1968
Major: English
Prison Chaplain, York Correctional Institution

Charlotte WhiteThe Messiah Experience
Charlotte took advantage of her free time in college and kept busy with extracurricular activities. She engaged her interest in music and the dramatic arts by participating in the Choral Society, Oratorio Society, College Trio, voice training, Theatre Messiah productions, and a gospel team.  She supported her major by serving as the circulation manager for the school newspaper Ivy Rustles, being involved in production of the Messiah yearbook, the Clarion, and founding the Arts and Letters Club. In addition, Charlotte was active in service, participating in Campus Christian Fellowship and volunteering for a coffee house ministry in Harrisburg.

Charlotte also held a work-study position in the library, which she says “formed the basis for my interest in becoming a librarian, a career I pursued for a time.”  Ultimately, Charlotte feels that her time at Messiah provided invaluable exposure to new ideas and backgrounds: “I came from a parochial background,” she says, “and my college experiences widened my world through study in a liberal arts curriculum, extracurricular experiences, and student teaching.”

Most students who major in the humanities are inevitably posed the same question when explaining their course of study: “Oh, so you want to be a teacher?” On the surface, it might seem that the career choices afforded to English majors are somewhat limited, but Charlotte begs to differ. “The writing skills have been universally helpful,” she asserts. “The ability to think critically and analytically has been useful; and further, the study of literature in a variety of forms and from many different cultures deepens one’s appreciation of and sensitivity to differences among people, and at the same time heightens awareness of our common humanity.”

Dynamic Process
Charlotte's vocational journey has been extensive and diverse.  After graduating, she taught junior high English for three years, during whic time she received a master’s degree in library science. She then worked as a media specialist for four years before moving on to various positions in the prepaid health care (HMO) business. “Along the way I got an M.B.A.,” Charlotte says. “I left the business career in 1994 and entered Yale Divinity School, graduating in 1997. My divinity school studies were complemented by my field education. I served as a summer chaplain in a nursing home, as a student chaplain at York Correctional Institution, and as a student pastor in a United Church of Christ congregation. Upon graduation, I trained for a year as a chaplain resident in a major medical center.” Finally Charlotte found her way to her current position as a prison chaplain for York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Conn. She also works as Co-Director of A Sacred Place, Inc., a ministry reaching out to incarcerated women.

Answering the Call
Charlotte has been down many vocational roads. “I have had, for many years, an affinity for the marginalized in our society,” she observes, “and felt a call to service. These feelings were nurtured while I was at Messiah. I felt God calling me to serve 'the least of these who are members of my family' (Matt. 25:40). When I was a student at Messiah, however, I didn’t think in terms of ordained ministry because women weren’t ordained in the Brethren in Christ church at that time. Therefore, I taught in an inner-city school as a form of service and was active in my local church.

“In my business career, I was still trying to answer the call as I understood it. The health plans I initially worked for had a stated mission of providing quality medical care to the medically undeserved. As the HMO industry moved further and further away from this mission and became for-profit enterprises, I was less and less satisfied with my work. Finally I responded to a long-held desire to go to seminary, and it was while I was studying at Yale Divinity School that my call to ordained ministry became clear. By this time I had been active in the United Church of Christ as a layperson for over 20 years. I thought I would be a pastor since I love the church, but as [my call] developed my concern for people who are marginalized, I found a home in prison ministry.”


• "Don’t worry too much about what you are to do—just get started doing something."
• "All your experiences, in whatever job you are in, will be useful."
• "God works in amazing ways, and (like me) you may have several careers along the way, each having something useful to offer the world."
• "When whatever you do is offered for God’s glory, God can use it."

“When I was a student at Yale Divinity School,” Charlotte says, “I did a student internship at York Correctional Institution; one year after graduation when I was completing a chaplaincy residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital, my denomination’s Regional Minister told me about an opening at the prison for a chaplain. The lead chaplain at the prison also called me and told me about the position. Feeling God calling me there (even though I had thought I was going to be a pastor in a church), I sent my resume and was interviewed by the head of the Religious Services Department for the Department of Correction and a committee of chaplains. Upon successful completion of this interview and a required physical which included strength testing, I was offered the position.”

A Typical Day
Most of Charlotte's typical day is occupied with her work as a chaplain.  Her assignments include “leading worship, preaching, spiritual care and counseling, small group Bible studies and spirituality groups, working with the prison gospel choir, coordinating our prayer partners program, recruiting and orienting religious volunteers for the prison, and administration.” However, Charlotte spends as much time as she can working with the women in prison, catering to their spiritual needs and guiding them as best she can.

On a typical day, Charlotte learns as much from these women as she did from her professors. “Incarcerated women teach me a lot about resiliency and faith,” Charlotte says. “I learn about compassion and hope from other staff and volunteers. I also learn about the cruelty and vengeance of which we humans are capable as our prisons are extremely harsh environments (even those that would be called humane).”

Often, when we follow God’s call to a life of service, we forget about some of those who need it most, generally focusing on the plights of those we consider victimized. We often overlook, intentionally or not, a large group of people with whom Jesus spent much of His time and some of whom need God’s love the most. Charlotte hasn’t. “I minister to some of ‘the least of God’s people,’ " she says, explaining the active service she engages in every day. “Incarcerated women, many of whom were abused as children and adults, are single mothers, poor, addicted to drugs and alcohol as a way of numbing their pain, and ashamed and guilty about their lives. These women are in dire need of assistance to help them heal, stand up, and refocus their lives. I am a non-anxiety-producing presence on the prison compound and a reminder that God loves them and the church has not forgotten them. I also help to make visible the needs of this vulnerable population through public speaking and preaching.”

Dreams Still Dreaming
Even if Charlotte could relinquish her daily responsibilities, her aspirations would still be service-minded: “I’d spend a year in the Iona Community of Scotland,” she answers, “or live for six months with a Palestinian Christian family in the West Bank under the World Council of Churches accompaniment program. Why? I spent three days on Iona four years ago and I loved the sense of community and the way life and work flowed into and out of their worship life. Their music is wonderful and they have a strong commitment to social justice. I think I idealize living in community but I suspect it is really hard to do; still I’d like the experience.

"Palestinian Christians are the forgotten members of our church universal and they live under tremendously oppressive and dangerous conditions. I spent two weeks with Palestinian Christians in 1997 with a group from Yale Divinity School, and I’d like to go back to stand with them for a time and to let them know they aren’t forgotten. I continue a friendship through letters and email with a family I stayed with one night—I’d like to see them again.”


Profile by Angela Kriebel, 2005


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