Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Challenges of Volunteer Chaplaincy

Tuesdays are my days to volunteer as a chaplain at Whidbey General Hospital. WGH doesn't apparently have a budget to cover a pastoral care staff, so pastors from all over the island volunteer a few hours a week to visit with patients, pray with those who feel the need, and generally act in a supportive fashion toward patients and staff..

Most of those who volunteer are from fairly evangelical congregations around the island and most are male. When I first volunteered and needed to learn the ropes, the coordinator of pastoral care (the WGH social worker, basically) asked one of the other volunteers to walk me through the procedures and answer my questions. But the fellow (we'll call him Pastor P) refused to work with me, saying that he wasn't comfortable with a Unitarian Universalist because our views on Christ were in opposition. I was a little taken aback by Pastor P's response, because to that point I had experienced only welcoming responses. The social worker guy was embarrassed to tell me of his refusal, but we did find someone to help me learn the ropes and things have been fine.

The other day, I actually met Pastor P in the hallway at the hospital. I don't know that he made any connection between my volunteer name badge and the incident about training, but I sure did. I saw him standing by a room door with another man, with a Bible in his hand, and before I had a chance to look at his name badge, I, in my most extroverted manner, went up to him, greeted him warmly, and identified myself as a fellow chaplain and ever so glad to meet him, thrust out my hand, asked what church he was with, and when he answered "Christian Missionary Alliance", I gushed, "oh, CMA, my sister goes to the CMA church in Moses Lake and I've attended with her. How nice to meet you!"

He looked like he'd eaten a lemon. I have no idea whether it was my rather pushy manner or a recognition of my name or just what, but he was barely responsive. I, not deliberately but kind of in a state of shock, kept babbling on about how wonderful it was that we were both doing this good work, blah, blah, blah, but it was clear he wasn't really joining in the conversation.

I finally managed to shut my mouth and say I was glad to meet him and I'd leave him now to spend time with his parishioner, etc., and wobbled on, kind of amazed by the interchange. I'm not sure I was heaping coals of fire upon his head, as in the scripture reference, but I sure was being friendlier than he had ever been to me. I hope it was helpful to him.


Stephanie said...

Well, I think that's the perfect response!

LinguistFriend said...

Yes, I do not doubt that Stephanie is absolutely right. I am not always quick enough for those moments (although I have had my moments, as you have said here in another context), but it sounds as if you handled it enviably. Go, UUCWI!

Mile High Pixie said...

You handled it well, Ms. Kitty. You rose above petty theological nitpicking and tried to find common ground. Brava, brava!

ms. kitty said...

Gosh, thanks, Stephanie, LF, and MHP. I'm not normally quick on my feet that way, so it was a bit of a surprise to me, but it did feel good.