Published on May 9, 2024 by Neal Embry  
Walker Cecelia

Cecelia Ann Walker, executive director of chaplaincy and clinical pastoral education for Brookwood Baptist Health, has been named the 2024 alumna of the year for Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School.

Walker, who also serves on Samford’s board of trustees, was working as a librarian in the early 1990s when she felt God calling her into ministry.

“I didn’t know what I would do,” Walker said. “I went over to Beeson to find out what that would look like. I had two small children and was working full-time. I knew I’d have to continue to work and wasn’t sure I would be accepted.”

But God displayed His faithfulness to Walker. Accepted into Beeson, Walker then went to her library director and asked if there was a way she could work nights and weekends in order to take classes during the day. Her director agreed without hesitation, she said.

“I could see that God’s hand was all over it,” Walker said.

In 1998, as she prepared to graduate, she was still not sure of what exactly the Lord was calling her to do. She thought back to losing her dad at Cooper Green Hospital in a traumatic way, followed a few years later when she lost her husband, Jeffery, at St. Vincent’s Hospital. A chaplain at St. Vincent’s asked her if she wanted to see her husband. At first, she hesitated, thinking back to losing her father. The chaplain assured her it would be okay and that he would be with her, and she went to say goodbye.

“It was a special time to have with him,” Walker said.

She also thought back to her time at the library, when people would often come to her for prayer, allowing her to minister to them.

Those memories spurred her on to pursue a career in chaplaincy.

Her first internship, she recalled, was “extremely hard,” filled with a lot of death and dying. Pressing on, Walker worked at what was then Baptist Health System and later at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital. She also began a chaplaincy program at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Montgomery and Tuskegee before Baptist Health called her back to serve as the director of Pastoral Care for Princeton BMC and to lead the clinical pastoral program for the system.
“God has His ways,” Walker said.

In 2019, Walker was promoted to oversee all chaplaincy efforts and CPE for Brookwood Baptist Health in her role as executive director. Often, students seeking clinical pastoral education training come from Beeson, with several Beeson graduates working at hospitals throughout the system, Walker said.

Her time at Beeson prepared her well for what the Lord would call her to do, Walker said.

“All of the professors were so invested in us and (showed) the deep love for God and God’s Word and God’s people,” Walker said. “That impacted me greatly.”

Learning to prepare sermons and to study God’s Word was a joy for Walker in her time at Beeson.

“I always loved God and God’s Word,” Walker said. “I would sit at the feet of my maternal grandfather, who would read the Bible to me, and I would ask him questions.”

Being at Beeson allowed Walker to learn from smart and humble professors, she said.

“They gave their best so we could become our best,” Walker said. “It’s been the gift that keeps on giving.”

Walker’s service to others through her chaplaincy efforts has inspired others.

“She has touched so many people (and) is a constant example of living a life of Christ and so much more,” said Meechie Williams ’14.

Chaplain Lawayne Custard ’20 said Walker “serves her community as well as her profession with excellence and integrity.”

“She is a proven leader in her community. She has proven herself to be an effective leader in her field, training many chaplains who not only serve in facilities in Alabama but also around the country,” Custard said.

Being named alumna of the year is special, Walker said.

“I’m humbled and honored by it,” Walker said. “I’m so grateful, because I am an ambassador for Samford and for Beeson in every way that I can be.”

Walker is the mother of two children: Gabrielle (d.2006) and Jeffery (d. 2019). She is married to Roy Ambrose, Jr.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.