Today I am preoccupied as I walk from the parking deck to the hospital. I am a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship endorsed chaplain. I am also a clinical pastoral educator, certified by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. My day is usually a mix of these overlapping ministries. I anticipate that today my focus would be on my education ministry with our five resident chaplains. I pause to admire the red roses, still covered with blooms this late in the year, then I hear a voice call out, “Oh, you’re a chaplain.” The lanyard all the chaplains wear has the word “Chaplain” printed on it; she must have noticed mine. “You know, I have a question about the Bible. I want to know who the first person was to be circumcised.”
“Wow, what a great question,” I responded. “Got any ideas?”
“Well, I’m not sure, but I’m going to look it up as soon as I get to my office. I’ll know by lunch time.”
“Sounds good.” The elevator door opens as we arrived; she gets on. “Good talking with you,” I say. “Let me know what you find out.”
“Okay. Bye.” The elevator door closes. I am reminded that there are many ways to connect with God—learning Bible facts seems to be one of hers. Then my thoughts return to the residents and the day’s schedule.
All of us in the Pastoral Care Department—staff chaplains, clinical pastoral educators, chaplain residents, and interns—begin our day by reviewing together the needs for which the on-call chaplains were called or paged since the previous morning. Information is shared that will help the next chaplain minister to these patients and their families. After announcements, one of us leads prayer. We differ in our faith backgrounds, ages, culture, appearance, education, and ministry experience. We are united in our desire to serve. The closing prayer reflects our diversity of being and our unity of purpose. After the prayer, we turn out the lights and head to the office/classroom area.
Today small group education begins with a discussion of a resident’s pastoral care visit. The presenter asks, “How well did I listen and follow what the patient said? What could I have done differently?” We offer feedback. We wonder how the chaplain resident’s earlier life experiences, sense of self as a pastoral caregiver, and theology helped the chaplain connect with and support the person in crisis. How might these also have created barriers during the visit?
After a break, we reconvene. With no pre-determined content this time, the residents have an opportunity to share what is on their hearts. They practice offering each other the kind of care they want to provide for patients, families, and staff. Empathy, respect, staying present with each other even in disagreement—these are a few of the ways of being together that help create a sacred space and honor the presence of God. At the end of the time, we reflect together. What have we learned this morning that will help us serve more fully?
Lunch time. I return a phone call. Questions about becoming a chaplain, about our clinical pastoral education program, about discerning their next step. Where is God leading?
After lunch, residents head to their assigned hospital units. I meet with each of them once a week for about an hour for individual consultation about learning. This afternoon I meet with three. Each has stories to share of ministry experiences in the hospital, joys, disappointments, sorrows, perplexities, and newly-discovered strengths and limitations. One of the weekly reflection questions they write about ahead of time is, “Where or when did you experience the presence of God this week?” Their experiences of God are as unique as the students themselves.
Today is a sacred day. Walking, listening, sharing, praying, learning: God is at work between us as we develop our relationships; God is at work within us as we grow in skill and compassion; God is at work through us, as we seek to be God’s presence, God’s hands and hearts, in this place.
Susan Harthon is a ACPE supervisor and CPE program manager at Wesley Medical Center, Wichita, Kansas.