Angela Lowe, Lawrence Memorial Hospital chaplain costumed as her clown character, Sonshine the Clown, paints the hand of a boy at LMH in December 2003.
Clowning around during the 1996 Olympics resulted in the Rev. Angela Lowe’s photograph being displayed in a Georgia police station.
When Lawrence Memorial hospital’s first full-time chaplain worked as a church consultant in Arkansas, she led clowning workshops for youth leaders.
“Clowning is a great fun way for shy people to gain confidence,” she says. “I took a group of adult and youth clowns to Atlanta to help entertain those attending the Games. We were one of the official Olympic sidewalk activities in Centennial Park.”
The group met people from more than 40 countries and were interviewed and filmed by international news crews.
“One day a police car pulled up and the officers approached me,” Lowe says. “I wondered what we’d done wrong and what I’d say to the young people. The officers shook our hands, thanked us for the wonderful service we’d provided during the Games and asked to have their photographs taken with us. They said they’d hang the photo in their station as a reminder of the importance of the Olympic sidewalk shows.”
When Lowe first came to LMH in 2002, she led clowning workshops in local churches on her days off. She’s since hung up her clown outfit to concentrate more fully on her chaplain role. She works with hospital staff in addition to working with patients and their families. She’s involved with people at all stages of their life journeys, including journeys through death.
“I’m there to listen, offer support, care and compassion to people at every stage of their lives,” she says.
Reflecting on her journey to become a full-time chaplain, Lowe believes she developed the gifts of compassion and empathy while growing up in Rangely, Colo. When she was 12 years old, she sensed her grandmother was dying but her family refused to talk about it. She wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral and grieved alone.
When a friend’s mother died shortly afterward, Lowe spent hours just listening and talking to the friend when adults wouldn’t.
“Listening came naturally to me,” she says. “I loved hearing people’s stories.”
After graduating in physical education and recreation, she worked at the state mental hospital in Wyoming, became director of the recreational therapy department and learned some deeper life lessons.
“I met a young woman the same age as me,” she says. “She did drugs at college and fried her brain. I realized it could have been me had I made different choices.”
Determined to make a difference in young adults’ lives, she went to seminary, graduated with a master’s degree in religious education and moved to Arkansas, where she worked for 13 years developing training programs for church youth leaders. She volunteered at local hospitals, and when a 30-year-old friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer she noticed mutual friends pretended it wasn’t happening. The experience led Lowe to a deeper level of questioning.
“Here was a loving, smart, highly educated lawyer with her whole life before her and I asked God: Why?” she says.
Throughout the tough questioning process, Lowe accompanied her friend until she died. The experience led her to search for professional training to make her a more effective listener in similar situations.
She attended a medical conference and heard a military chaplain speak about the importance of the chaplain’s role in helping people make sense of their life journey especially during challenging periods.
“I’d never heard anyone speak about the official chaplain’s role,” she says. “In my heart I knew I was meant to be a chaplain. My life’s experience had prepared me for it.”
In 1997 Lowe attended seminary in Kansas City, obtained chaplain certification with a master’s degree in divinity, completed a residency in a Veterans Administration hospital and worked at a hospice before her appointment at LMH.
She loves her job.
“I’m often invited deeper into people’s lives when they reveal things they’ve kept hidden for years due to fear, or because no one’s ever really listened to them with their heart.”
Staff often apologize for calling her out during the night.
“I assure them it’s a deep privilege for me to be present,” she says. “People need to be assured they’re being cared for in body, mind and spirit.”
Eileen Roddy writes weekly profiles of people living in the Lawrence area. The story is reprinted with permission from the Lawrence (Kans.) Journal-World.