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What have I learned in the Master of Chaplaincy Course? I have learned more about helping other human beings in a wide variety of belief systems on this journey through life. I began my ministry as a chaplain at the local hospital. I wanted to dovetail this particular course with the first-hand experience of doing the mandatory 45 hours of chaplaincy service to become an ordained ULC Chaplain. I found most people in the hospital appreciated my visit, at least as a distraction of what brought them to the hospital in the first place. At first, I just went in the patient’s room, said hi, and asked if they wanted a prayer. Some said yes, some said no. They I left. Then I remembered 85 year old Pastor Bob, who the hospital had me shadow before my fledgling first time visitation by myself. He said he used to carry a Bible, but let that practice go. I see why. I brought my Bible, but found I never used it. Pastor Bob also said he wanted to get back to touching the patient, either by shaking their hand when he came in to the room, or touching their arm or shoulder when he said the prayer. As I write this, I think I will incorporate that. Pastor Bob also showed me the hospital chapel, which is sometimes used on Sundays by other priests or ministers so they can offer a Sunday service. I can see this as a place where I can hold services, or even a Bible Study. The chapel Pastor Bob showed me was beautiful, with a stained glass window with a cross on it. But the person who I signed up with to volunteer was Jewish. She didn’t like the Christian symbol, so the hospital created a different chapel, which is still under construction. As I got less and less scared, yes I was scared to do something new, I became more comfortable with greeting the patients. Now instead of suddenly appearing in their rooms, saying a five second prayer and dashing out to the next patient, I come in with a big smile and a big wave of my hand saying I am spreading cheer. This makes them relax and usually they smile back. I talk with them, asking how long they have been there and when they think they get to go home, so they can think of moments past what brought them to the hospital. Then I ask if they would like a prayer, most say yes, some say no. But I leave them with a big smile and wishing them to feel better. Two instances stand out in my mind. One was two days ago when I went. The first patient was so talkative, so I just let her talk, looked directly in her eyes, and affirmed and nodded to let her know I was listening. She shared one terrible experience after another, ending with a life shattering personal experience, causing her to tear up. At the end of 90 minutes, she told me she had prayed in the morning for a sign. I only showed by at 3 p.m. for my schedule. She said I was an answer to her prayer, and that she felt comforted and listened to. The other experience was the previous time I did the chaplaincy ministry in the hospital. One gentleman I spoke with, at the end of my short visit, told me he was waiting to go to heaven, that there was no hope. I said a prayer there for him, but I left, wishing I had stayed and said more to comfort him. I feel I need to get better at that part. I felt the tug to stay, but no words came to me. I got the indication that he was Catholic, from his saying he was going to heaven. I used to be Catholic, so I could have said more to ease his mind. Another time, I was called by the Emergency Room, since the family was asking for a minister to come to pray for their dying daughter, and to pray with them too. But I live 20 minutes away and wouldn’t get there in time. I found myself feeling relieved when they said they got another minister who could get there quicker. I know we ULC ministers can do funerals as well as weddings. But I need to learn more, as a chaplain, how to assist those near death, without having my heart in my throat, to better assist the one passing over, as well as helping the family find a sense of peace. I find this has to do with my insane ego. Moments like I have been sharing are not about me. Yet it is me who is responding, or not responding in the best way possible. I think this also has a lot to do with my own faith journey. I have been deeply assessing various beliefs, and continuing to study the Nag Hammadi scriptures. Not everyone believes in them. I want to be cognizant and sensitive to others, especially at moments like this, when so many people have differing belief systems about the afterlife. It is one thing for me to have my own beliefs. It is quite another to help others at these tender moments, without causing them further grief by me saying the wrong words. I think the solution to this problem is to continue studying the remaining six courses required in this Master of Chaplaincy course. In a way, I feel like I have jumped into the deep end of the swimming pool, and a bit over my head. But I also feel that is how I learn best, by jumping right in. I am sure the remaining courses will round out these rough edges I am feeling. I will keep ministering as a chaplain at the hospital at the same time I am continuing with my education in the seminary. One idea I came up with, was to have prayers written out ahead of time, that I could leave with patients who were interested in receiving them. I had Christian prayers, and prayers for Jewish patients, and other prayers for pagans with more of a nature theme. I think from now on, I will leave my ULC ministry business card I had made up from www.vistaprint.com, with a note saying I came by to visit them, for the patients who are sleeping. When they wake up, they will then know someone other than their doctors, nurses and family came by to visit with them. This course was fantastic and prepared me well. I like the idea of meeting with other ministers in the area. Pastor Bob said ministers in the area got together once a week over breakfast to share their ministries. I need to get back in touch with Pastor Bob, who I can also use as a mentor, one of the suggestions in this course, so I can find out if the other ministers are still meeting together once a week. When I first retired to my new address, I spent many months visiting other churches in the area, to see what they were teaching. I even spent three years with Jehovah’s Witnesses to see what they taught. However, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not interested in meeting with anyone who does not believe exactly what they believe. I might be able to get back in touch with the other ministers in the area, especially Pastor Bob, if he is still around. One of the reasons I took this class was so that if I needed an income later in life, I would have it to fall back on. But I find that it is something I would like to continue, in my journey as a Christian minister. I can use my ULC ministry in a meaningful way, and have a brand new chapel to use. Again, I find I need to walk through the fear of doing something I have never done before. But history teaches me that courage is having fear, but doing what you need to do anyway. That is exactly what I am going to do.
This post is about the Master of Chaplaincy Lesson #16 on "The Soul-Friend." Life provides us many opportunities to help us help others, sometimes stretching beyond what we sometimes think is possible. The following is a post that I put on my website 2 days ago, but is pertinent for this lesson. Jesus operated without a church. Yes, he taught in the Temple, but he also taught wherever people were. Taking this example, I was asked by my friend, who has since died, if I could give her dying sister energy work and counseling sessions. I went to the sister's house for her sessions, when she could no long come to my office. She knew she was dying of cancer, yet this woman remains one of the most positive, emotionally and spiritually stable people I have ever met. She asked for reflexology. I looked up at her angelic face, which radiated with a beautiful smile. One day my friend called me and told me her sister was calling everyone she wanted to say good-bye to, and asked me if I could come to her sister one last time. I should mention I never went out to house calls in my professional work. But this case was different. On this day, I showed up for the last reflexology session, greeted by her incredible smile of joy. At the end of the reflexology session, she looked so peaceful and was grateful I had come. I didn't want to leave the room, feeling like if I didn't leave the room, she would not die. We talked, but finally I had to leave. She said, "Good bye," smiling and at peace. I edged out of the room, graced by that beautiful smile of hers. What could make her so positive, so joyous, so at peace at a time like this? Her belief in a loving God and the eternal promises of the after life impressed upon my heart. The next thing I knew my friend who had ignored her own health, had cancer. I would drive the two and one-half hours one way to pick her up and bring her to my house for the weekend, after I had retired from work, giving her a break. I treasured these visits. In the end, I got a call from her family, asking me to come down so she could say good-bye to me too. A smile also graced her lips. The common thread between my friend and her sister were the incredible lives they lived, which included much struggle and strife, more than many other lives I have witnessed, even to this day. How they overcame such odds against them, while retaining their serenity and peace, is a tremendous lesson in love, on a life well lived, and an indelible model of integrity when at the end of life. Jesus operated without a church. That is what I am doing. This lesson asked if anyone had reached out to us as a soul-friend. Both of these women I mention sought me not just for human friendship and fun. They were seeking a God connection, a prayer connection and a healing connection. These women had a great love for each other, but they also had a beautiful belief in life after death, in a God who loves them. I felt honored to help these women in this way.