Each year the COMISS Network promotes Pastoral Care Week. It is an occasion to recognize the different disciplines who offer spiritual care to persons. The theme for 2017 is Hospitality: Cultivating Inclusion. Throughout this week you will hear from CBF endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors as they focus on this theme. Below is Part 2.
By Elizabeth Reda Milazzotto
All of my grandparents immigrated to the United States searching for a better way of life in the early twentieth century. I was able to visit Ellis Island where they first landed a few years ago when my spouse and I visited New York City.
We took a ferry out to Ellis Island and I recall feeling quite emotional when we disembarked from the ferry and stepped onto solid ground. This was where they first landed after the long voyage across the Atlantic and were initially offered hospitality and were included as a part of the Italian community.
We entered the building and saw all of the photos of the immigrants, the luggage piled up high and displayed, and the documents that we were able to access.
I could only imagine the excitement for new opportunities, as well as the fears that go hand in hand with stepping onto the soil of a strange land without the language skills necessary for survival, and the changes that would need to be made as they entered into a strange environment.
As a pastoral counselor, I’m able to recognize the parallel that exists between being an immigrant entering a new land, and people who choose to enter into a counseling agreement with someone who is most likely a total stranger. I still recall the apprehensive feelings I had surrounding my own entry into a pastoral counseling relationship.
Since that time in early 1980 I’ve had a private practice for three years and have also worked at three different pastoral counseling centers. I’m currently in a newly established private practice and recognize the need to create a welcoming space with an atmosphere of hospitality, inclusion, and openness.
Those who seek me out for help in dealing with real life issues may or may not understand God as I understand God; perhaps they are seekers with many questions or even those who don’t believe in God at all. Where they are in terms of their understanding of God is neither here nor there; hospitality, inclusion and a nonjudgmental attitude of acceptance become primary in the establishment of a therapeutic relationship.
The themes of hospitality and inclusiveness are also played out in the church that I attend — Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where I was accepted as a divorced woman with two young children and ordained there in 1988. We welcome everyone who enters that sacred space. Everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, and preference. The doors are also open to a group of Muslim women who are learning English, and addicts seeking acceptance on their road to recovery. I believe we are in need of more Cooperative Baptist churches willing to be as open to those who are different as Jesus was when Jesus, the immigrant radical Savior with open arms complete with dark skin and hair who treated women like people rather than chattel, drank wine and supped with tax collectors, and provided a new model for living and understanding the Creator. What are we waiting for?
Pastoral Counselor Elizabeth Milazzotto serves through a private practice in Louisville, Ky.