Tomorrow completes my first real week as a real hospital chaplain resident. Also, I get my first paycheck. Woo. Sometimes when people find out what I do they ask me what exactly it is that I 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 internship last semester. Mostly, I do whatever I need to do to build relationships with people.
If you’re curious about chaplaincy, take this little tidbit with you: it’s 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, me to leave, etc.
I do a lot of things in the course of my day – check my email, chart my visits, break for tea and a snack, write verbatim on encounters, write reflection papers, more tea and snacks, and I visit with patients and their families.
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.
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.