5Cs welcome two new chaplains

The outside of Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services (MCAPS) office in the Tranquada Student Services Center.
The McAlister Center for Religious Activities welcomes two new chaplains to the 5Cs.  (Emma Jensen • The Student Life)

Along with two classes of new students, the academic year also brought two new religious leaders to the Claremont Colleges. TSL sat down with the new chaplains, Reverend Dr. Naima Lett and Rabbi Hannah Elkin, to learn about what brought them to the McAlister Center for Religious Activities and what they hope to bring to the 7C community. 

Although Lett will only be in Claremont for the 2021-22 academic year as interim Protestant chaplain, she plans to make the most of her time at the 7Cs. 

Prior to her arrival in Claremont, Lett worked at Hope in the Hills, a Beverly Hills-based church she founded and has led for the last 12 years. She calls the church a place for “dream-makers and dream-chasers.” 

Lett’s academic pathway began at Howard University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in theater. The next phase of her academic career took her to Biola University, where she received her Doctorate of Ministry and became the program’s first woman to receive a degree in preaching. 

The death of her mother during her sophomore year left Lett “grappling with what life really means.” In her search for a meaningful life, she turned to faith and decided to pursue a career in ministry. 

“Right now, there are a lot of students in college grieving,” Lett said, referring to the challenging year and a half since COVID-19 set in. “And that’s kind of where we come in, as the support services … to make sure that students can find [their] way through.” 

“And that’s kind of where we come in, as the support services … to make sure that students can find [their] way through.” —Dr. Naima Lett

While pursuing her ministry degree, Lett also ventured into the entertainment industry, a pairing she says “works hand-in-hand.” She has worked as a producer, writer and professional actor, most notably appearing in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Living Proof,” among other productions. 

Lett also founded Lett’s Rise! Productions, a studio to create inspiring, faith-based media, and the 40|50 Project, an initiative to address the racial divide in the United States through prayer and fasting. 

Rabbi Hannah Elkin, who teaches from the reform branch of Judaism, was recently ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, where she helped lead several LA-area religious organizations

Her transition to the Claremont Colleges had a familiar feel — an alumna of Middlebury College, Elkin came with a liberal arts background. After completing her undergrad, she went on to receive a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School.

Elkin’s career has included advocacy work for survivors of assault, abuse and harassment, with a background as a spiritual counselor at a Jewish-based addiction recovery center in Los Angeles.

“Judaism was a big part of my life, something that I found really enriching and helpful,” Elkin said of her decision to become a rabbi. 

She was initially drawn to pursue ministry, she said, because “[Judaism is such that] I could ask three questions and get five answers and ask 10 more questions based on that.” 

Elkin said she came to the Claremont Colleges because she felt she could be “helpful and supportive to people who could use religious and spiritual support … especially coming off of this last year and a half.”  

As the Jewish High Holy Days came earlier than usual this year, the transition to the chaplain’s office initially felt like a “tidal wave,” and, as the chaplain’s office is a 7C service, “there’s an awful lot of people to meet, abbreviations to learn, and a bunch of different campuses to figure out where things are,” Elkin said.  

Amidst an overwhelming start, though, she found it “really great to have so many opportunities to meet students and … get a lot of folks through the door.” Like Lett, she felt welcomed. 

“At the first Shabbat dinner, a lot of the upperclassmen were asking me how I was,” she said. “I just thought that was just so sweet and caring.” 

Regarding what’s coming up for the 7C community, Elkin said, “everyone’s been gone for a year it’s a lot of reinventing the wheel and figuring out how do we do things, what we need to do differently, what can stay the same from before and what needs to be totally reimagined.”

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