1 Thessalonians 2:8

If there is a Bible verse to encapsulate what I have learned in my hospital chaplain residency this year, this is it:

. . . we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves . . . [1 Thessalonians 2:8]

At the beginning of my residency I struggled with, but quickly accepted, the not-specifically-religious nature of my chaplaincy work (see The Cross and Hospital Chaplaincy).  That is, as a hospital chaplain in a diverse setting, I am not there to be a Christian or a Lutheran chaplain.  Rather, I am there to be a compassionate presence who can provide spiritual support (if requested), either by directly providing for religious needs (read Scripture, say a prayer, etc.) or by connecting patients with resources from their tradition (reading material, clergy, volunteer visitors).

It was hard, in one sense, to put down my Bible and my prayer book, for they symbolize the two sources of wisdom and teaching in my faith – Scripture and the Church’s tradition.  But as 1 Thessalonians 2:8 shows, we share not only the Gospel but also ourselves.  In my line of work as a hospital chaplain, but I imagine also as a parish pastor, it is the sharing of the self that comes first.  I walk into a room and I present to the patient not my prayer book nor my Bible, but myself.  "Hello, I’m Chris, one of the chaplains in the hospital.  I’m here to check in with you, to see how you’re doing, to offer you some support while your here.  How are you doing?"  I think I have used my prayer book about four times since I began this program on September 1, and my Bible perhaps a dozen times.  I have prayed more often, but even then it is not as much as I thought I would.  For most of my patients it is relationship, not religion, that they’re looking for from a chaplain.  (Why?  That’s stuff for another post, but briefly – I imagine that the majority of my patients are not overtly religious; and the ones who are religious often have friends, family, church members and clergy who provide them with their religious needs.  I do provide some religious services, but not nearly as much as I originally thought I would.)

As a congregational intern and eventually as a pastor, I will use my Bible and prayer book in pastoral care.  But I think that I will use them less, and differently, than I would have prior to this residency.  I have learned in this residency the power of a pastoral relationship, and have felt the incarnate love that is shared in such encounters.  If tended with care, such relationships can become channels of comfort in which the living Word of God breaks in, the prayers of the saints echo, and the witness of the church shines brightly.  Each situation is different, of course, but too quick a turn to Scripture or the prayer book can result in a disembodied religiosity that might dot holy i‘s and cross sacred t‘s while doing a disservice to the incarnate, living Word which comes to us in the flesh and demands of us a relationship.

Published by Lutheran Zephyr

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

4 thoughts on “1 Thessalonians 2:8

  1. The whole concept of ministry in the sense of “being there,” showing support, helping, praying, doing, and the modern catch word, “relationship,” has been on my mind because of the sermon I gave the other night. I see people in my church and my community doing this. I’ve tried to learn from their example. I’ve been amazed and grateful for the adults in my church who have given their attention and support to my children.
    I NEVER saw this sort of thing in the city church where I grew up. I don’t know if this was peculiar to that church, or part of the frozen chosen, or a generational thing. I do remember a Christian couple I hardly knew doing a huge favor for me, giving up two days of their time, when I was 22. This was a turinig point for me in realizing what the Christian faith really meant.
    What is that quote? … about preach the Word always, use words if necessary.

  2. As a new seminarian, I am not sure I agree with this. We should not cast off our Christianity based on context.

  3. @newsem – It’s not about casting off our Christianity, but about figuring out how best to embody it. Do I lead an encounter with another person with doctrines, Bible, or a prayer book, or with words of “hello” and an interest in the other? If someone perceives that you have an agenda – particularly in the “secular” setting of a hospital – they will have little interest in what you say. But if you actually care about the other person, it creates a space wherein you can each share, open up with each other, and grow together. As followers of a God who took on flesh in order to relate to us, I think that relating to our patients – rather than converting them or insisting they listen to our brand of faith – is actually quite Christian.

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