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Master of Chaplaincy Final Essay

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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.

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I know that you are a devout Christian, but in the United States there are so many religions.  Have you had any experience in the hospital that you visit with people of different faiths?  I am not a Christian, but if I were in a hospital bed and a minister came around and asked me if he or she could say a prayer, I would not mind.  Of course I would tell them before he or she started saying the prayer that I am not a Christian.  Would you say the prayer?  I ask this because not all Christian ministers would say the prayer.  Or would they?

Hermano Luis

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I have often heard pastors say at various churches growing up, that it did no harm to pray with or for a non-christian, or non-believer. If anything, the Christian doing the prayer becomes a sort of intercessor on the behalf of the other, so in that regard the prayer may be answered.

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