–By Sara Robb, Associate Pastor
In three weeks, I will have completed a year- long pastoral residency as a pediatric hospital chaplain. During this year, especially when I first started, a lot of people would ask me, “What exactly does a chaplain do?” It’s a great question. I think there’s probably an image that comes to mind of a chaplain as this person who travels all over the hospital, walking into people’s rooms and sitting down to have meaningful, life changing conversations and offering beautiful, poignant prayers. Sometimes that happens, and honestly a lot of that imagery was what I had in my mind before my residency.
Mostly, I do whatever I need to do to build relationships with people. Chaplaincy, and really any kind of ministry in whatever setting, is all about the relationship. Yes, I pray with the patients or families who ask me to- and I make sure, as I’m assessing their spiritual needs and creating normalizing conversation, that I’m creating space for them to say what they need: prayer, someone to listen to, or someone to just sit with them and be present.
I sit with them in waiting rooms – emotions raw with anticipation of some kind of news. I meet them in the trauma room and wait with them while they wait for their parents to get there as quickly, and carefully, as they can. I hang out in their rooms when their parents have to go back to work. We color, we watch TV, and we chat- about school, life, siblings, friends, God. I ask them “do you know what “chaplain” means? Most of them shake their heads. “That means that my job is to go to all these different rooms – and I get to say hi to people and ask them how they are doing.
Usually, I ask them what kind of church they go to, and I also ask if they have anything they want me to tell or ask God. Does that make sense? “They usually nod, and I practicalize it even more, so I know they understand. I sing nursery songs to the little babies who are all by themselves and then I pray for them trying, however inadequately, to give voice to their prayers. I listen for the stories of each encounter: mine, theirs and Gods – finding and giving meaning to intersections of humanity and holiness.
As my residency comes to an end and I prepare to come on board full time with a different kind of ministry among the home-bound of Scott Boulevard Baptist Church, I’m excitedly looking forward to being asked a new kind of question “what exactly does an Associate Pastor of Ministry with the Aging do?” I imagine I would say something like, “I do a lot of the things you’d imagine a church minister would do – I attend worship on Sundays and fellowship with the church members before and after church, I write the occasional sermon and write for the newsletter – but mostly, I build relationships.
I make phone calls to those who are not physically able to be present in worship (though they are present with us in thought because their absence is quite felt) and I ask them how they are doing, what’s going on in their lives, share what’s going on in mine and I ask how I can be in prayer for them. I pray for them daily and I visit when I can.”
In September, when I begin my full time ministry with the family at Scott Boulevard, my answer will expand even more and I’ll be able to talk about how I go into the homes of our care ministry folks to share in a worship experience together with some of the other members of Scott Boulevard, as we sing, pray and share communion together. I’ll be able to share how I get to spend my days building relationships and listening as my story intersects with your story and our stories intersect with God’s story; how this congregation and I are headed for a new and holy experience of finding and giving meaning to the past and future events in the life of this church.
I’m so thankful that September is only a few weeks away, because I’m delighted every time I think about getting to serve alongside each of you and being a part of this transition. It will be painful at first; many of you have loved this building for years, and a new worship space will take some getting used to. I’ve spent the last year journeying through life’s ups and downs with a group of 7 co-residents to whom I will be saying a very difficult goodbye when my residency ends. We will get through our life pains together, and hold each other up as we begin this new chapter of life and ministry. Thanks be to God.