Why are you in that room?

A question that arises from the first week in an intensive CPE program this summer.

You walk into a hospital room. You meet a man you’ve never seen before and will never see again — in all likelihood — when he leaves the hospital. You are on the staff of the hospital chaplain’s office.

What is your purpose in this encounter? What is your goal? How do you know if you did a good job?

I am quickly discovering in CPE how much of my ministry is tied to the congregation in which it happens. Pastoral care and visiting when it is with people who are connected in some way to the church I serve has a logic to it and purpose that I understand. It is one more facet of an overall ministry with and among a people. It is shaped in important ways by the fact that we worship together. And even when it is with people who do not worship with us, it is shaped by the potential that we may one day share such a community. It is pastoral care that defines care in terms of helping people enter into right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

I find visiting as a chaplain to share little with pastoral visits among my congregations. Perhaps this is a sign that my congregational visits are problematic in some way. Maybe I have not been at CPE long enough yet to see what remains obscure to me.

I wonder how others have experienced this.

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6 thoughts on “Why are you in that room?

  1. CPE was really challenging for me, but I now count it as one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I would definitely do it again and might be open to an “in context” / in the parish CPE in the future.

    For me it was helpful at becoming more self aware and at learning how to be present in love without expectations (that I didn’t know I had).

    It also helped me grow much more comfortable sitting with people in their grief. (I’m a “doer” by default in response to crisis.)

    I can definitely identify with the dissidence created by only helping folks as they pass through. I found myself often asking if people had a pastor or congregation they had any connection to. (In non sectarian language of course.) My hope was to plant the idea so they’d reach out to a congregation after they got out.

  2. I loved CPE when I did it 25 years ago in a state mental hospital, and it helped me hone my listening skills and learn how to work in an interdisciplinary environment with people who often times didn’t value my connection to the Christian faith and the church. I would never say things to people I had just met that I say to congregation members I have developed a relationship with over time. Something said to a member at the church I serve who clearly loves Jesus, knows my affection and concern for them, and wants a word of biblical hope could be considered inappropriate and crass by a stranger without a shared faith and relational/pastoral context.

  3. I have seen a lot of Chaplains in my years in the Navy. It is a different kind of ministry no question there. The Chaplain’s role is to be there at a time and place to meet a need. Acts 8:36-39 might be the model you are looking for. I would recommend reading some chaplain stories. You might start with the Medal of Honor citations for those chaplains who received that award. Easy to look up.

  4. I completed 5 units of CPE, and learned a great deal by doing so. It took me some time to realize that I was not there so much as a representative of a local CHURCH as I was a representative of the hospital administration. Recognizing that you are a HOSPITAL or other institutional representative will help you clarify your role. I might have chosen to become a chaplain, if it had not been for this somewhat disturbing (at least to me) recognition.

  5. Helpful to me in my CPE was a word from one of the full time chaplains who also preached most weekends at a very small, rural episcopal church. He said that, for their people, pastors are the voice of God. Chaplains though are the ears of God and much help and healing can come through the listening.

  6. I served in a similar program in my community, as well as ministering in retirement homes…as they are called. For me it was a practical application of that some sow, another waters, and yet another reaps. As with all of our time outside of the church and out and about in the general community population everything we do should be a constant application of the reflection of Christ and the Gospel. Your smile, or warm welcome, or attentive ear may open the way for the next person to share the Gospel more fully, which may lead someone to the church, which may lead someone to the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus. Sometimes God may choose to use us in what appears to be insignificant ways….such as a smile….without ever revealing to us the whole plan

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