“WILL YOU SEEK AND SERVE CHRIST in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God’s help. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help.” – Book of Common Prayer, page 305.
We say this in baptism and when we renew our baptismal vows, but this summer I have had the opportunity to live it out to the fullest, and definitely with God’s help.
As a seminarian, I am required to do a program called Clinical Pastoral Education. This program is normally in a hospital setting that is a ten-week, 400-hour crash course in chaplaincy. My program has allowed me to have two sites for my chaplaincy work. This summer I have been working part-time with a hospice company and part-time at a group home for youth. With my hospice patients, I work with them to assess their spiritual needs, help guide them through their end-of-life decisions, and work with families who are grieving after their loved one has passed.
Ultimately though, my goal is to simply be a non-anxious presence in their midst.
At the group home, I work with youth who range in age from 6- to 17-years old. While all my activities are ultimately optional for them to attend, I have been granted a lot of freedom and opportunity to simply meet these youth and get to know them as people. I host group time that allows us to explore different faiths. I create activities through different faith practices (yoga, prayer beads) that can double as life-coping skills.
I also hold an interfaith service on Sundays that introduces the youth to easy, inclusive, 20-minute worship service, since most are un-churched. Simply put, my goal at the group home is to be a positive, supportive figure in their lives so that they might have at least one positive interaction with faith after the tumultuous childhoods they have already survived.
This summer has been really hard. An important part of my role is to have an open heart, yet this also makes me vulnerable to being emotionally drained. Finding this balance is key in being a pastoral presence, and allowing self-care so that you can be a good pastoral presence. At its core, my role as a chaplain is to be fully present with these people. To listen to their stories, to hear their pain and their celebrations while remaining present and empathetic allows me to give them the respect that all humans deserve.
This summer has been an opportunity for me to simply join people where they are on their journey. That might seem too simple but it is incredibly important. To join them in their sorrow, grief, pain, not only validates their feelings, but allows me to accompany them on part of their journey through this life. By simply keeping my heart open, I am able to serve and love them as my brothers and sisters in Christ, sometimes more than I will ever know and sometimes in ways that they have never been joined before. It is in these moments that I found God.
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