By Kenny Daniel
I have experienced 2018 as a year of death, a year of growth, a year of new life.
During my first semester at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR) I had the privilege to take Introduction to Pastoral Care with the man, the myth, the legend: Dr. Dan Bagby. Throughout the semester I learned new conversational tactics, authentic listening, crisis management and reflection skills, but perhaps more importantly, I was able to discover a new piece of my heart, a new passion. I fell in love with pastoral based ministry, but I felt like God was not challenging me enough. For some reason I longed to be put into more difficult challenges, more trying situations, more God-dependent times.
Well, let’s just say that He listened and certainly provided me with some trying events, and they have each helped me grow closer to Christ and reaffirmed the Lord’s calling on my life.
Finding life in helping people through times of desperation, being a true peacemaker, was quite fulfilling in class, so I decided to try my hand in CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education. I had the great joy, truly, of working in an elderly community. I was given three primary places to pastor as a chaplain intern, they were as follows: health care, assisted living, and the memory unit. I quickly found myself struggling to contextualize the material into actual practice. I found myself floundering to relate to an entirely new demographic, seeing as my entire ministry experience thus far had been with youth and children. I found myself fighting personal tendencies, such as conflict avoidance, in the face of uncomfortable situations. This was a difficult summer….and I loved every minute of it. Week by week I grew in my application of chaplaincy, I grew in relating to a wider demographic, and I grew in self-awareness. Just like that, the summer came and went, but now in reflection, I can see tremendous personal growth and ample vocational discernment.
All of that being said, the moments which stand out the clearest are the four deaths that I oversaw, as a chaplain.
I can recall sitting with the patients, who were largely unresponsive, and holding their hand or touching their arm, praying aloud, singing hymns, playing songs, and helping comfort them. I remember seeing a spirit of peace fall over their faces as I would lift them up in prayer. I reminisce on the pain that the families went through and the comfort which I, only through God, was able to extend to them. Sometimes I would simply sit with a wife, daughter, son, or husband and cry, with my arm around their shoulder, in grief before the Lord. The sting of death is ultimately softened by the promise of eternal life, but grief, anger, frustration, confusion, and sorrow are much more immediate. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to walk with so many people through a time of hardship, invest in their wellbeing, and prayerfully seek refuge in the Lord.
Later in the year, as classes were starting back, I found myself experiencing my own personal grief. Two of my closest loved ones were hospitalized due to mental health reasons. My world stopped.
All of the pastoral care that I had been offering to others solemnly helped me through this hardship, but rather I needed the pastoral care this time around. The Lord did not abandon me, but rather demonstrated His good and perfect love through my pastor. He greeted me in the Emergency Room, comforted me through my tears, prayed for me, and helped guide me back to the correct path. In a very real, tangible way, I was able to feel the type of the love that God had been extending towards others through me. Through these trials I learned the importance of community, Christian leaders, and pastoral care. Once again, only through a completely new medium, I felt the Lord directing me towards chaplaincy.
Skipping ahead to my present situation, I am in the midst of peer, faculty, staff, alumni, institutional, and personal turmoil, as my school, BTSR, announced that they will be closing down after the spring semester.
In some ways this has been the culminating moment of my year. Everything that I have learned and experienced is now coming into play in a fresh, new light. I am finding myself caring for loved ones, listening carefully in our collective sorrow, communally praying for peace and discernment, and fully relying on God through this time of death and transition. Furthermore, I am grateful for the Christian community and leaders, who I have come into contact with, that have offered prayer and a shoulder to lean on. Collectively, I know that we will get through this difficult time, and that the Lord uses all things for His good and glory. We might experience death now, but as one chapter ends another begins, all in the eternal book of life with God.
Kenny Daniel is a CBF Leadership Scholar pursuing his M.Div. at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, and exploring a future in chaplaincy.