Interview – by Rev. Yvonne Younes
Y: I see you have the word “Canon” in your title what does this signify?
Canon Mark: Canon is an honorary title. It usually indicates the bishop has assigned a particular duty or job, in this case, Diocesan Administration.
Y: What is your educational background:
Canon Mark: I have a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the Wright Institute, Berkeley, California and I also a master’s in Theology from St. Michael College in Toronto, Canada.
Y: What brought you to California?
Canon Mark: I spent 2 years as a volunteer at a Jesuit School, St. Xavier’s, in Kathmandu, Nepal. After that experience, I knew I wanted a degree in psychology and wanted to go somewhere that had an East/West dialog and that brought me to San Francisco to the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Y: When did you join the UAC?
Canon Mark: In 2010 while I was in Portland for my second year of chaplain training.
Y: What prompted your interest in the UAC?
Canon Mark: After being denied ordination in the Episcopal church, I gave up on ordination in California then considered seeking ordination in the Episcopal church in Portland, and realized it would take years and I would have to start from the beginning of the process. I didn’t want to give that amount of time especially for an uncertain outcome and my chances of working as a hospice chaplain were almost nothing if I were not ordained. I looked into independent churches and had a friend who was in contact with +Craig (Bishop Craig Bergland). My friend suggested I do the same. I did and I read about UAC online. I found +Craig a good listener and found the process of discernment to be affirmation rather than roadblocks. The process could be completed relatively soon. I was able to meet people at General Assembly and had favorable impressions. The first question I wanted to ask is the independent church sane? UAC was sane. I liked that people were doing different and off-beat things.
Y: I understand you are a chaplain for VITAS Hospice. Tell us a little bit of that ministry.
Canon Mark: Being a hospice chaplain is about being able to provide whatever emotional, spiritual or ritual support for patients and families as they approach the end of life. I’m usually giving emotional support, which I see as also part of spiritual support for people rapidly approaching end of life. Most of the patients I work with are either non-verbal or are confused in their speech because of their dementia – 70-80 percent of the people in our hospital have dementia either as their primary terminal diagnosis or as a secondary disease. I have a commitment to communicating with people w/dementia and supporting and training staff and family members to communicate with people with dementia. Understandably, the family generally tends to focus on the loss, so if a person cannot communicate verbally they say: “This is not my mother”. In learning to communicate, there are moments of connection and even a profound connection is possible. To accompany people as they approach their death or the death of their loved one is an honor, it’s poignant, a kind of poignant beauty.
Y: Is there anything else you would like us to know?
Canon Mark: I enjoy cooking. I also study and practice Tai Chi. I am a member of a Benedictine monastic community called the “Community of Solitude”. We are having annual meeting in St John’s Collegeville this July.