Four Months Down, Five To Go

Chaplaincy, that is.  I’m a resident chaplain at a teaching hospital, part of my uniquely contorted march towards ordination in the Lutheran church (a post unto itself).  And after four months of this resident chaplain program, I can confidently say that (drum roll please . . . ) chaplaincy is not my calling.

This is not to say that I do not like what I’m doing, but it is to say that I am not sufficiently fulfilled by the work.  After four months of meeting hundreds of patients, praying with many, and watching a few die, and I am tired.  But it is not the extremes that are weighing on me.  Death, dismemberment, deadly disease, debilitating disfiguration – these are horrible conditions that send patients, families and even the chaplain into varying levels of despair.  The extremes suck, and they may represent the worst part of these people’s lives, but they’re not the worst part of chaplaincy.

No, for me the worst part of chaplaincy is the incessant introductions.  "Hello, I’m Joe, one of the chaplains in the hospital.  How are you . . ."  Several times per day, several days per week I make this introduction to patients and family members.  Why?  Because for every ten patients I introduce myself to, only one or two are really interested in talking at any depth with a chaplain (that fact itself is the stuff for a future blog post).  With most patients I am simply a friendly "hello," a casual drop-in that lasts no longer than the exchange of polite pleasantries.  And even with those patients with whom I have meaningful encounters and meaty conversations, after a few days or (in a few circumstances) weeks they are out of the hospital (likely without a chance to say goodbye), and I’m back knocking at the same hospital room door, waiting to meet yet another new patient.  "Hello, I’m Joe, one of the chaplains in the hospital.  How are you . . ."

I yearn for relationships that last longer than a three-day hospital stay.  I want to know people in the everyday mundane, not just the life-and-death extreme.  I want to be with people before, during and after their extremes, not just in their deepest depths.

And I want to do more than just provide pastoral care.  I want to teach and preach, to coordinate and facilitate, to lead and follow, to walk with, learn from, and accompany.  Right now my ministry is narrow in focus and fairly undirected in practice (don’t confuse undirected with unskilled – yet another topic for another post).  I would like to do more in ministry, and to do it intentionally and unabashedly from a (Lutheran) Christian perspective.

Four months down, five to go.  I will still learn lots in this residency, and part of me looks forward to continued learning.  But if I’m honest with myself, part of me also looks forward to the end of these five months when I’m that much closer to my goal and calling of becoming a Lutheran pastor.

Note to self – topics for future posts:

  • my contorted march towards ordination;
  • the fact that most people in the hospital are not interested in talking with a chaplain;
  • the pros and cons of undirected pastoral care.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

5 thoughts on “Four Months Down, Five To Go

  1. Having just spent a number of days (as a mom) in a hospital, remind me sometime to tell you why I didn’t want to see the chaplain. Which isn’t to say that your discernment isn’t valid, but only to say that I’ll likely comment if you blog about your perceptions of why folks don’t want to see the chaplain.

  2. Once when I really needed a chaplin I couldn’t get one to respond. But last time I was in the hospital, I got visits from four clergy. Since I was feeling faily good, this actually was pleasant. Otherwise I was lonely there.

  3. I had much the same experience when I was on CPE. Sometimes though, I would overhear a patient on his/her way out the door tell a relative, “and that is the Chaplain, he stopped by to check on me.”
    I often wondered how many people actually cared that I came by, then found that some did. That little bit on knowledge helped me get through those “Hi I’m Joe, one of the chaplains” moments.
    Sounds like you are doing well on CPE. Keep up the good work.

  4. As “A Story Worth Telling” (Fryer, ed.), “A Walk Across The Room” (Hybels) and “Evangelism for Normal People” (don’t remember) all remind us, we mere humans (ordained, pre-ordained or lowly laity) DON’T change people’s lives – the Holy Spirit changes lives.
    God works through us as we serve others – sometimes in spite of ourselves. In your CPE experience, just because your ego isn’t stroked or your intellect isn’t stimulated, so be it. How about ‘May God’s Will Be Done and May I Be A Small Part of It’ rather than ‘Please Help Me Get Through The Next 5 Months of Tedium.’
    Discerning your call is one thing, but dismissing your current role is quite another. Shame on you Zephyr.
    As many times as not, our role in being a living witness of Christ’s love to others bears no immediate fruit – hence gives no immediate satisfaction to our fragile egos. That doesn’t mean we get flippant or diminish each and every interaction with the Seven-Eleven clerk or the Presiding Bishop if the exchange doesn’t end in confession and forgiveness.
    Be your best and give your best – for Christ’s sake and that of your care receivers. You’re up to it I’m sure!

  5. Oh, dear friend, perhaps you have been LookingUpward so much that you are seeing spots or going blind.
    I do not doubt that God is working through and in spite of me at the hospital, but I also know that this job is not my true calling. Surely you know what a drag it is to be involved in a job – even a ministry – that is not fulfilling or which doesn’t draw on your unique, God-given gifts. Surely you know . . .
    God will continue to bless me through the patients over these coming months, and God will also continue to bless the patients through and in spite of me. This is most certainly true.
    Yet I will not apologize for that longing in my heart to know and love people for more than a three-day hospital stay, to preach and teach, to lead worship, to be part of a community, and to do other tasks of parish ministry (tasks that are not a part of hospital chaplaincy). The truth is, I am called to a different ministry, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit it.
    Blessings to all in their daily work – particularly those for whom work is not especially fulfilling or meaningful. As my friend LookUpward reminds us, God does work through us, regardless. But it is also my prayer that we who work less-than-happily might find ways to be fulfilled in our work and/or find new work that allow us to use our gifts in meaningful and fulfilling ways.

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