Each year the COMISS Network promotes Spiritual Care Week. It is an occasion to recognize the different disciplines who offer spiritual care to persons. The theme for 2019 is Cultivating Space. Throughout this week you will hear from CBF endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors as they focus on this theme. Below is Part 6. Learn more about Spiritual Care Week at spiritualcareweek.org.
By Jo Kirkendall
Last year, about this time, the Gulf Coast of Florida had just experienced Hurricane Michael. Michael hit land on Sunday, October 7. On Monday morning, October 15—seven days later—I arrived at the Walmart parking lot in Panama City where the Veterans Administration Disaster Response was set up.
There were a pharmacy trailer, a couple of medical trailers, a feeding station, lodging trailers, office trailers, tents, and the Vet Centers counseling trailers. VA employees from all over the country as well as from the VA hospital where I work had arrived over the weekend and were busy responding to the needs of anyone who walked in.
I got out of my car and walked towards the entrance to the “compound” and as I got close I heard a loud voice cry out “Chaplain Jo! Chaplain Jo! Chaplain Jo is here!” and I was enveloped in a big hug from one of our nurses who was manning the triage table. What a welcome!
For the next five days I watched hospitality in action as VA employees from the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System and other VA employees from as far away as Washington, Colorado, West Virginia and many other places welcomed anyone who came to us. We gave out water, the pharmacy filled prescriptions for anyone—not just Veterans. If they had it they filled it. We bandaged wounds, checked blood pressures, and fed anyone who came by.
And we listened. And listened. And listened. Of all the things we did to help—and I can’t say it too often, VA employees are amazing and generous people—listening to the stories was one of the best things we had to offer.
There in the Walmart parking lot, we created a space where all were welcome, where there was shelter, water, some air conditioning and space to tell stories. There was space for tears, for anger, for gratitude, for fear, for hope, for relief, for compassion, for worship and for lots of hugs.
Henri Nouwen says “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”
Within a circle of VA trailers and tents in a Walmart parking lot, a sacred space, a sanctuary, was created, and hospitality was available in abundance!
Jo Kirkendall is a CBF-endorsed chaplain serving at VA Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi, Miss.