Thursday, January 29, 2009

I am not a Gas Station attendant

I regret that I am not a more regular blogger- somehow there is too much of life happening to crystallize it. The last time I blogged, I was headed into a time when I was to train interns in a shadowing process. Each of those times brought learning for both of us. But the more recent time happened on a snowy day, when I drove through the virtual snow globe and slick roads, watching each of the 10 accidents I passed to predict if it involved people who would be coming to the hospital. I am still not sure what that says about me. After a trip that took three times as long to complete, I had just introduced myself to the intern, and gotten the handoff of patients when the traumas started. Since the other non-student chaplain was stuck in traffic, we were off to the first of 6 traumas in our 6 hour shift. Many involved another patient who was somewhere else in the ER, and the shuttling back and forth to keep everyone who had been torn asunder, connected. Husbands and wives, parents and children. In all of this buzz, there was the family of an older woman who was in the ER and dying, totally unrelated to the swirl of motor vehicle events. The ER is like a beehive when there are multiple simultaneous events, and one must keep one ear to what is happening beyond to know what will soon be told. In the midst was a Code Blue five floors away and the challenge of how to leave and how to be present for a totally different family who doesn't care about my trauma load downstairs. How it is that one is able to shift and be what is needed is truly God's work.
In the midst of this wild ride, I am trying to keep the intern in the loop and check how she is doing. It becomes obvious that this is not at all pleasant for her- in the rare moment of time, I ask how she is doing and learn " I guess I did not prepare myself for the reality of death. I am not ready for it now."
But who among us really has prepared? The fact your beloved has been sick and could die "someday" is not "today." The fact you were hit by another car, but now your mother, the passenger, is dying, is not what any of us can mentally be braced to simply accept. This is what makes us human- to love is to risk. But in the midst of this, what is the word that can be offered?
Recently one of my classmates, in lifting up the merits of parish ministry (which are many) told me that what I do is "just gas-station ministry." In the sense that I am sent by God to fill up your spiritual tank when you feel depleted, or drained, I suppose that is true. The fact we are 24/7 not answering machine, is a reality. But from where I stand, it is not about whether one or another has a "better" or more permanent ministry. After all, who knows what the seeds are that are planted- do they happen because of a great sermon, or a warm handshake at the door each week, or do they happen because when faith was tested in the crucible of trauma, it was restored, or kindled? Only God knows.
For whatever reason my time at the hospital allows me to use a gift. It is not an exclusive gift- but in my time there, I will do what I can to plant seeds, for the patients, for the staff, for the families, for my peers. Often this happens when a pastor cannot come, or at a time when pastors are elsewhere. It takes many of us, each where we need to be, when we need to be, to do what the Spirit desires. If that means I am a gas station attendant, then I guess I pray you will want to fill your tank and that one of us will be there with a smile and an encouraging word for the journey ahead.


Joan Calvin said...

I'm in parish ministry and I think my congregation wants a gas station attendant. They want to be comforted and uplifted on Sunday morning so they can go back the the "real" world. Not my favorite job title, either. I spent a summer doing a chaplaincy internship and I definitely think it is a much more demanding and difficult job/call than mine. Blessings on your work.

Gannet Girl said...

I wrote a post in response to this over at Search the Sea. Thanks for the thoughts you raised.

The Unlikely Conversationalist: said...

Tell your classmate that ministry is ministry. Some times it takes place in a matter of minutes in crisis and other times it takes years to share the story as we develop relationships in the church. The only difference is the way we human's perceive time. God's Word isn't limited because we didn't have all the time in the world; the issue isn't what we do but what God's done. Our joy is that we get to share that Word. Keep at it.

Anonymous said...