Friday, October 26, 2007

Learning the Hard Way

When I moved to Omaha, Nebraska from the Dallas area, I wanted to continue my hospital ministry, so I called the closest hospital to see if I could volunteer there. They had a much larger Pastoral Care Department than the hospital I had been volunteering at, and it was also a training center for chaplains.

The very nice man, Bob, who took my call, told me that in order to work in any pastoral care capacity at the hospital, I would have to complete at least one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). My informal training through the hospital ministry organization at my previous church didn’t count. Nor did my years of experience. Both of those, and the fact that my husband is an ordained Permanent Deacon in the Catholic church, would qualify me to enter the CPE program, but weren’t enough to let me volunteer.

I’ll admit it. I had a bit of an attitude about that. Who was he to discount what I had done? I was trained by a woman who had years of experience with Hospice. And didn’t he know I was a good person and only wanted to help people?

Actually, I think he did. And when I was able to let go of my attitude and sign up for that first unit of CPE, I started to understand. To be a chaplain, it takes more than being a good person, and we are not there to help people in the way most people think.

When I think about the first few months of that first unit, I cringe remembering all the poor people I tried to “help.” Bob was the CPE supervisor, so I met with him weekly to debrief and go over Verbatims. I would feel so smug because of things I did to help people, and Bob was quick to point out that wasn’t my role. “You aren’t here to ‘fix’ things,” became his typical response to me, until I finally started to get it.

I went on to take three more units, which then qualified me to work first as an on-call chaplain, then part-time and finally full-time for several years. That was an incredible experience, and I am so glad that Bob stood his ground.

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