It seems a common topic of conversation these days that the world is pretty chaotic. We find so many things hard to understand - from violence in the name of peaceful religion, to laws which seem to increase suffering for some in the 'best interests' of others, or just decisions to which we can only stammer 'But... but... that's just wrong!' At heartfelt level, become intellect and rationality, we know this and are flummoxed that the other person cannot even grasp the possibility
The craziness of 'everyday' life is brought home to me often, largely because of my work as a Professional Priest. This brings two worlds colliding in a very real sense. The secular, normal, nuts-and-bolts life that generally allows for the concept of spirituality but with an undercurrent of nervousness, unsure how to engage with it for fear of offending - and the spiritual, soul-deep understanding that we are actually all humans muddling through some greater journey together, albeit with a similar suspicion that the 9-5 family-and-day-job is mad in its own way. Is one more important than another? Is one more real than another?
Howard Thurman wrote, "Community cannot feed for long on itself; it can only flourish where always the boundaries are giving way to the coming of others from beyond them — unknown and undiscovered brothers."
This quote by Thurman is helpful in my own reflection of the work I do as a chaplain. In the two years that I have worked as a chaplain I have provided care to a diverse group of people. First as a hospital chaplain in West Virginia and then as a hospice chaplain in Ohio. In these two years I have had the opportunity to provide care to two people who identity as Pagan. In both cases it was family of the patient; although in one case the patient was Pagan but unresponsive.
Some More Ways in Which Inmate Circles Differ from Civilian Circles
In previous blogs I’ve mentioned various differences and restrictions that affect how we can work and what we can and cannot do. We can burn candles and incense, and we have created a temporary temple space.
You have recently finished your education at Cherry Hill Seminary and you’ve been hired as a healthcare chaplain at a local hospital. The Director of Pastoral Care turns to you and says, “Well, since you’re the newest chaplain you get to preach at our bi-annual memorial service for all who have passed away at the hospital since our last service.”
You are sitting at an interview for a position as a staff chaplain at a prison. The warden who is interviewing you says, “I expect my chaplain to be the pastor of the whole prison community.”
You get a call in the middle of the night. A Catholic patient of yours is near death and the family can't find a priest to anoint the patient. You've been asked by the nurse at their bedside to attend to them.
Good advice for anyone interested in chaplaincy would be to suspend your sectarianism. Institutional settings that have chaplains need their chaplains dedicated to interfaith ministry. Chaplains need to be of service to all of those within their institutional setting. Suspending your sectarianism doesn’t mean sacrificing who you are as a minister, priest, or cleric. It means being open to diversity and being able to embrace that diversity to be of service to others where you find them. This means being strong in your own religious conviction. Your identity as a Chaplain should flow from your theology and that theology should be expansive enough to embrace the needs of others both within and outside of your tradition. Suspending your sectarianism means your agenda is one of service and compassion; and the person with whom the Chaplain serves sets the agenda.