Friday, September 26, 2008

What is a chaplain's responsibility?

At Whidbey General, a volunteer corps of local ministers, ordained and not ordained, cover the spiritual waterfront, spending one day or more per month visiting the patients in the hospital. The volunteer coordinator supervises this corps of well-meaning pastors, which is primarily made up of male pastors of nondenominational congregations. There are three women who volunteer as well: me, S, and M. S and I are UUs; M is Catholic but is locally affiliated with a Baptist church.

It's interesting that only the three women have any Clinical Pastoral Education hours among our transcripts. I would guess, from my observations at our quarterly meetings, that none of the men have any CPE training. They rely on their evangelical training to help them offer comfort and care to patients. Unfortunately, some of them clearly think, as revealed in our most recent group discussion, that they are entitled to try to lead patients and their families to Jesus, as part of their care and comfort routine.

The volunteer coordinator has become aware of this, over the time she has supervised the group, and yesterday's meeting (after our scheduled speaker on "Best Practices" cancelled on us) was a battle, though politely waged on both sides.

Now, if I learned anything in CPE those many years ago, it is that bedside spiritual care is all about the patient, not the chaplain, that any agenda is strictly confined to the needs of the patient as s/he defines them. This is not a lesson that these guys have learned. The opinions I heard yesterday curled my hair.

The most unethical I heard was probably "I go into that room to deliver the love of Jesus and by gum I'm going to do it. If that person objects, s/he is probably "under conviction" by the Holy Spirit and just ready to give him/herself to Jesus. And no, I won't put away the cross after I finish using the Quiet Room even though it might offend a Jewish person who enters the room after me. Those people need to recognize their need for Jesus."

Obviously I'm clumping statements and putting my own spin on them. But when I objected to the last statement by reminding the speaker that Jews have a very good reason to be offended by the cross, he countered by telling me that there were Messianic Jews who have seen the light and that no Jew should be offended. Excuse me? I was thunderstruck and couldn't conjure up a good response.

Fortunately, one of the hospital nurses, a young man who works in the ER, was there because of his interest in spiritual care, and his contributions were invaluable, as he took the issue out of the theological realm and put it in the power realm by saying "when a patient is in the hospital, s/he is in the least powerful position s/he may have ever been and you, as a chaplain or a nurse or doctor, have incredible power over what happens to him/her. There is a power differential here that must not be exploited. When you proselytize in the hospital room, you are wielding unfair power."

Nothing daunted, the pastor in question (who is doubtless a good and loving man but passionate about his relationship to Jesus) reiterated that he was going to pray for people anyway, even if they asked him not to. He would go outside the room and pray for this lost soul. And he wasn't going to put the cross and Bible away when he was leaving the Quiet Room; another volunteer would have to do that because for him it would be a slap in Jesus' face. And if the hospital didn't like it, he wouldn't serve as a chaplain anymore.

The blood pressure was pretty high in the room, as you can imagine. Afterwards, the VC, the nurse, and S & I talked about what we'd been part of and brainstormed some next steps. She's going to see about getting a CPE supervisor to come talk about the philosophy of chaplaincy at our next meeting.

What gets me is that most pastors trained evangelically have Christian Privilege so deeply engrained in their psyches that they can't see that any other religion has any credibility at all. They don't see that this kind of behavior is arrogant and disrespectful and actually causes more anxiety than it dispels.

Well, that's off my chest. Guess I'd better go back to the sermon now.


ogre said...

Whoa. Boy... I wonder if you can see from there to Deus Vult. My hair curled at a distance in time and space. I wonder if David Pyle might have some useful advice/insight.

Chalicechick said...

(((And if the hospital didn't like it, he wouldn't serve as a chaplain anymore.)))

Doesn't sound like he would be a great loss. I don't think he's suited for it.


ms. kitty said...

I'm hoping David Pyle does chime in, Ogre. I'd appreciate his thoughts.

CC, I totally agree, but there's a piece of me that would like to change his point of view---not that I actually have any hope of it!

Joel said...

M is Catholic but is locally affiliated with a Baptist church.

Eh? How does that work?

Joel said...

Just for the record, this guy you're describing sounds like a real clod. He's not there representing Jesus as such; he's there to do what the patients need. And it's not his place to decide what they need. Elsewhere, yes, it's his duty by his lights to try to evangelize, and I can even respect that with my ears plugged. But if he's a chaplain, he's working within the hospital's rules.

Anonymous said...

Christianity is evil. It's like a virus.There is a place for religiosity, and a need for it in a hospital - but not to proselytize. A believer may find great comfort in a pastoral visit, but I would be incensed.

ms. kitty said...

Joel, I'm not sure how that works out. I know she was hoping to serve as a Catholic laywoman but was, for some reason, not able to connect with the local parish. She's a rather unusual person, not many social skills. Not a great chaplain, imho, but has training.

ms. kitty said...

Yikes, anon, I don't believe that Christianity is evil at all, but there are certainly Christians who do not act appropriately. I tend to think of Jesus' teachings as "real" Christianity, not the manipulated version that many Christian denominations teach.

Earthbound Spirit said...

Oh, my. My, oh, my. Deep breath.
When I did my CPE training there was an evangelical Christian in my group. He is a lovely man, and "got" that the patients' needs came first. He certainly had a strong faith - and opinions - but he refrained from evangelizing. In fact, we were all instructed to remove any proselytizing tracts from the meditation chapels or any other areas of the hospital. I learned a lot from him, and he's pursuing a career specifically in chaplaincy.

The nurse you mention had it absolutely right - patients are in very vulnerable positions and chaplains need to be careful to respect & preserve each person's dignity as much as possible. Respect (and the Golden Rule!) might be the key to dealing with your evangelical who doesn't get it. He expects respect for his faith - so do people of faith who think differently from him.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, EBS, I knew this post would resonate with others who've had CPE. It's just so clearly a violation of chaplaincy ethics.

2LT David Pyle, CC, USAR said...

I believe there is a significant difference in understanding the place of faith between Parish Ministry and Chaplaincy, and as I am called to both, I sometimes have to remind myself which side of my ministry I am operating in.

As a Parish Minister in a faith that is (or should be) just as Prophetic as others are Evangelical, my faith is what I preach. My faith is what I live as openly and authentically as possible, and it is the motivation for how I minister. As a Prophetic Parish Minister, I am called to be unapologetic for what I believe, to be confrontational when necessary, and to challenge those whom I disagree with. I am called to inspire my congregation to the same level of living the faith we profess.

As a Chaplain, my faith plays a very different role. As a Chaplain, my faith is the strength I need to be with people in the best and the worst moments of their lives. Be it in a hospital, in a workplace, or in the field with my soldiers, my faith is the inner core of strength that allows me to bring hope among hopelessness; to connect emotionally with someone in deep pain and grief; to help someone open up again to life when all seems to be closing in upon them. As a Chaplain, I represent for each person not my understanding of God and Life, but theirs. I respect that in speaking with me, praying with me, holding my hand in moments of crisis and pain, they are in their own hearts communing not with me, but with God as they understand it.

Of the two roles, being the chaplain is to me the harder, deeper, and more sacred understanding of faith. I have found that many who can not make the shift to this inner strength understanding of faith can not do so because of the fear of being that open with someone. The scripture and the cross can often be used as armor to keep someone in deep pain away from the minister’s own heart.

Being a chaplain is hard. Though I am called to it, I know that part of the pull I feel towards parish ministry is in the fear I feel that my faith will not be enough to share the yoke of the pain and anguish that the chaplain shares and bears witness too. The chaplain ministers to the living scripture that God is writing on each human soul, and being in that place is one of the most humbling experiences I have ever encountered.

It was enlightening to me to see that fear in my own heart, because it allowed me to understand individuals such as the one you met Kit, and to see their attitude as the armor they can not take off.

Yours in Faith,


craftyrene said...

I am a Christian. That is my belief system and although I have some differing beliefs than many Christians I am firmly instilled with these beliefs. HOWEVER, When working as a chaplain in a hospital as you are doing, It is not the time to preach your beliefs! I spent over 20 years working in long term care facilities and often found myself sitting by those who were dying and trying to comfort them or thier families. Even Jesus did not comfort families by preaching. He held thier hands and if they were willing he told them about his fathers mansion. He did not do this to those who did not want to hear it. He cared for them and in many ways this spoke more for his faith than words did. When someone is dying they do not want to know what you believe whether it is in accordance with their beliefs. What they want is to die knowing someone cares for them and will miss them. They just want comfort and frequently that is just holding thier hand and sometimes sharing your stories. Preaching is best left at the pulpit not by the bedside unless that is what is asked for. We would not have such a negative opinion of Christians if thier deeds reflected more of thier beliefs.
That is just my opinion.

Joel said...

A believer may find great comfort in a pastoral visit, but I would be incensed.

That would depend on the clergyman, Anon. An Orthodox one would probably incense you, and a Catholic one might, but Protestants don't use the stuff as a rule. Besides, there are probably regulations in the hospital regarding smoke.

ms. kitty said...

David, thanks for all you have added to this conversation. You speak from deep experience.

Rene, your thoughtful take on it is really impassioned. Thanks.

Joel, you are too much! I love it! and you.

Chalicechick said...

Lol, Joel.


LinguistFriend said...

You make me glad that no chaplain or minister visited me during the whole week that I was laid up in hospital in February. That is consistent with the insular character of local religion, I suppose. I try not to give such people as your negative example a hard time in other circumstances, but in hospital they could be an irritation.

The behavior you describe recalls the medieval view that led to the burning of heretics alive becaue their behavior was worse than murder, in that on the one hand it led to the denial of eternal life to the people influenced by heresy, and on the other hand the sword was supposedly forbidden to the church in civil situations. There is a
similar set of priorities active in what you describe.

Christina Martin said...

I can't help thinking of the gospel I heard at Mass yesterday, of the vineyard owner who sends representatives and finally his own son. The story obviously refers to God and Jesus, and one of the many points I get out of it is that the son didn't come to the vineyard to replace the father, but merely to represent his father's business.

I know that many of the readers here do not share the specific view of Christianity that I do, but I think that at least we can look at the parable with a similar desire to take good from it. And one thing I cannot imagine in that parable is the son coming to the vineyard, finding tenants who want to do business directly with the landlord, and the son demanding that they pay homage to him.