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.