This blog post comes from CBF-Endorsed Chaplain, Brenda Lee in celebration of Pastoral Care Week. Chaplain Lee is the director of Chaplain Services at Williamsburg Landing, a Continuing Care Retirement Community, in Williamsburg, VA.
As I began to think about my experience as a CBF endorsed chaplain, why I love being a chaplain, or what pastoral care means to me, I wondered what readers would want to know. I kept mulling over ways to describe a typical work day in an effort to help illustrate my ‘calling.’
Actually, there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ day in my work. Even a job description wouldn’t easily reveal the tasks at hand, for I recognize that it’s my heart that goes before me, not a list of set goals that feed an evaluation’s outcome. I love being a chaplain because it’s a heart job.
Being a chaplain summons me to shared moments of renewal and joy, loss and despair, relief and praise, pain and suffering, life and death, and hope beyond the living of our days on earth. I sit with people desperate for hope of a good prognosis and visit with people stunned by the pronouncement of death. In moments like these my call, which is grounded in faith, defines itself in the wake of needs. When I think of job tasks that might describe a typical day, duties yield to glimpses of the faces of those whom I serve.
My work is all about the people, not the planning. It’s about gained trust and pastoral outreach, not the number of visits made last month or this quarter. Visits are important and provide the bedrock of open doors to ministry. I enjoy welcoming new residents to their home on our campus, and treasure getting to know them and their family members.
One of the things I appreciate most about being a chaplain is embracing the diversity that exists on campus as I work to provide an ecumenical presence to more than 520 residents from divergent backgrounds. To help new residents from out of town locate a place to worship, I compiled a resource book listing 19 faith groups with 53 locations in our area: I’m an equal opportunity referrer!
Cultivating friendships provides a foundation of trust among others for any minister, for any person. I am charged with providing pastoral care. When illness comes, surgery is scheduled, or rehab is arranged, my knock at the door is a familiar greeting. When death occurs and a family gathers to grieve, pastoral care offers a blanket of peace and comfort: one more reason I love being a chaplain.
Chaplaincy is truly for the people. From within the walls of two hospitals and now a retirement community, stories continue to flood my soul of the many people of God with whom I have held hands, shared and sung, prayed and cried, identified bodies, baptized, assisted parents rocking babies present in the arms of Jesus, and more. These faces bring to mind vivid memories of sharing pastoral care with God’s people.
Ministry is interesting. Over the years, I have been appreciated, blessed, challenged, cursed, embraced, empowered, hit, hugged, ignored, joked with, kissed, loved, praised, spat on, stretched, and supported. I’ve loved every minute of it, I still do, and I believe I always will. I’m in this for the long haul.
In my ordination service, one hymn I chose was “We Are Called To Be God’s People,” by Tom Jackson. Those words continue to define for me not just what it means to answer and obey a call, but the everyday sacredness of my vocation.
“Create an atmosphere of community,” commanded Jim Pardue. “Be charged by Joel 2:28-29,” instructed Maurice Graham. “Always embrace the audacity of Christian ministry,” remarked Randall Lolley. Remembering the wisdom of those mentors, balancing theology from my cradle roll days to CPE and beyond, I have trodden hallways, entered homes, married and buried, all in the course of delivering to the people of God the hope of Christ. Pastoral care means to “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,” believing that with “strength for thy labor the Lord will provide.” Oh, the certainty of that promise! I depend on that strength (Psalm 121:2) which gives me courage for each new day, for each pastoral visit’s knock on the door. I know I can’t and don’t go it alone. None of us do. Drawing upon the strength of Christ equips the servant for faithful and meaningful service. As tough as it may seem for me some days, it is absolutely where I’m supposed to be in the moment.
I encourage you to join me in reflecting on the words of Jackson’s hymn, to mull them over as you identify with the challenge they present and the blessing they provide to all who seek “the doing of God’s will.” Beware though, for not only does it qualify Christians for service, it also demands that we heed the need to share the Gospel of Christ. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle of commitment I’ve adopted. Join me, won’t you, in the caring of others? The peace of Christ be with you and yours. Shalom.