United Theological Seminary

Annual Report

Claire Klein ’19

MDiv in Interfaith Chaplaincy
Launching dementia chapel

Claire Klein’s calling is more important to her than her comfort. A part-time music therapist, she’s well-aware that she could take the easy route now that she’s graduated, moving into full-time employment in her current position. But her work at United has inspired Claire to take a different path. “I’m staying part-time to make dementia chapel a reality,” she said.

“Dementia chapel” is the unexpected innovative project of Claire’s last year in seminary — a fully formed plan that only needs the right congregational partner for Claire to make it a reality. The project began to take shape during the class Leadership in Religious and Non-profit Contexts. As part of the class, student groups had to create grant proposals for innovative nonprofits. Through her work Claire had noticed that participation in worship services seemed to spark something in people with dementia; long after they had forgotten other things, they could still say the Lord’s Prayer and participate in familiar rituals. She came to her group with an idea: What if they could tap into this and offer a worship service to meet the needs of people with dementia? As the group pulled together the grant proposal, Claire realized, “I could really do this!”

With faculty encouragement, she used her capstone project to make things real, meeting with connections in the UCC, the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia experts and caregivers to determine what spiritual needs should be met through chapel services focused on people with dementia. Claire is the third generation in her family with ties to United and its predecessors (her father is an alum and her grandfather attended Mission House). In addition to earning an MDiv in Interfaith Chaplaincy, she has fulfilled ordination requirements for the United Church of Christ. This year, Claire was the recipient of the Dayton merit scholarship and the Schilling scholarship.

The scholarships completely covered tuition, allowing Claire to limit her loans to cover other portions of her educational experience, such as books. Generous donations to scholarship funds are exactly the sort of thing students like Claire need to have the freedom to pursue their calling to launch innovative new projects after graduation rather than seeking the most secure and financially rewarding positions they can find.