Manatee chaplain puts life's lessons in new book

newsintern@bradenton.comJune 8, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Emmalou Kirchmeier approaches her 90th birthday with decades of experience as a chaplain. Kirchmeier shares her knowledge in her new book "The Sign of the Fish."

"The Sign of the Fish" is a book of faith, compassion and belief. The intentions of the book embody Kirchmeier's statement when she said "Goodness is imbedded in all religions."

Kirchmeier's journeys, along with other eight chaplains who helped write the book, emphasize the critical role of chaplains.

As a journalist in the late 1970s and early '80, transitioning into a life as a chaplain was easy for Kirchmeier.

"My transition to ministry took place as I transitioned from a mother to a reporter and then from a reporter to a minister," Kirchmeier said.

She was first inspired when she served as a bureau chief for the Hartford Courant. While serving there, a young girl committed suicide at her mother's grave because she was being molested.

"As a mother of seven, I began to see that if one child could be helped, then that would make all of the difference because I could not imagine anyone doing that to a child," Kirchmeier said.

Kirchmeier decided to attend seminary when her sons were studying in Islamic countries and the local seminary offered courses in Islam.

She later studied history at Boston University's School of Theology, graduating in 1985.

"I became involved with Sarasota/Bradenton Campus Ministry, where we work with New College of Florida, USF, and Ringling," Kirchmeier said.

Chaplains serve as emotional and spiritual guides for those in need.

"I found that the more diversity there is within a campus, the more our assistance will serve them," Kirchmeier said, adding In a world full of different religions and cultures, people become blind to those different than themselves.

Kirchmeier took all of her experiences with various ministries and put her most powerful thoughts in her book. "The Sign of the Fish" clarifies the misunderstandings of what chaplains do.

The education requirements chaplains must fulfill is equivalent to receiving a doctorate. Kirchmeier completed 400 hours in three different schools prior to achieving her status as a chaplain.

Her inspiration for writing the book came from her personal experiences when working with cancer patients at hospitals in Hartford and Sarasota, and the Redemptorist Order in West Springfield, Mass.

"The Sign of the Fish," embodies Kirchmeier's understanding of the roles of chaplains in an ecumenical world. Her reasoning for the title elaborates the values found in the book.

"It was hard to always have a cross on when you are dealing with people who aren't Christian," Kirchmeier said. She continued on by saying "I knew that the sign of the fish was originally the very first Christian sign when they drew it on the sand so the sign of the fish was really our very first Christian symbol."

Kirchmeier wears the sign of the fish around her neck more often than the cross.

In her book, Kirchmeier focuses on the existing goodness in all individuals that is waiting to come out.

"We may worship a different God but we have certain ways where we all acknowledge as being careful of other people, and when we're not, we are criticized as we should be if we are hurting other people," Kirchmeier said.

There is no limit to what a chaplain can do and what Kirchmeier has done. Despite her age, Kirchmeier is very active. She attends Trinity Methodist Church, is a member of campus ministry, a member of Democratic women, a member Coterie which includes all single senior citizen women, and teaches at South Manatee library.

Kirchmeier continues to live a compassionate life.

"I am passionate about what I do and I have done everything that I wanted to do," Kirchmeier said.

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