Magazine article The Christian Century

Out-of-Control Ministry: Jumping into the Chaos of Life with God

Magazine article The Christian Century

Out-of-Control Ministry: Jumping into the Chaos of Life with God

Article excerpt

IT CARRIES US AWAY. Outside of the cities we live in. Outside of ourselves. The river is ecstatic. Jumping in, we risk everything. We risk losing ourselves. We risk not coming back. We risk sinking to the bottom. We risk allowing the Current to guide us rather than being guided by our own feet on the banks.

From time to time I sit on the banks of the river that runs through my city. Those who first walked this land and those who first swam this river named it Toolpay Hanna, which in the language of the Lenape means "Turtle River." When the river was (re)discovered by the exploring Dutch, they named it the Schuylkill River, which means "Hidden River." Leaving my desk, I find my way to its banks. And sit. And dream. And imagine what it would be like to jump in. I'm a good swimmer. I'd be fine. But that isn't going deeper. I want more than just a brief dip in the waters.

Faith is jumping in and letting the Current take us where It wants. It's dangerous. There are painful rocks beneath the surface that we might strike a foot on. We might be bitten by something that dwells within. We might go over the waterfall. We might not come back out of the river. While trusting and allowing the Current to guide us brings life and love, there is a cost. That cost is the forfeiture of our perceived control.

I first contemplated this notion of not being in control during my season as a hospital chaplain. My first night on call at the hospital where I did clinical pastoral education, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had just turned 23. A year before I was living in a frat house and finishing up college, and now I was visiting hospital patients, baptizing babies, and giving last rites.

For our first overnight on-call shift, the young chaplain interns in my program were given the opportunity to shadow a veteran chaplain. The gentleman I shadowed was a Lutheran pastor who felt called to chaplaincy. He was about 40 and had been at the hospital for two years. I remember the anxiety I felt when the rest of the chaplaincy department left at the end of the workday, leaving the two of us to keep watch over the whole hospital. We began by making rounds on each of the floors, checking in with each department's head nurse to see if there were any patients who could use a visit. These cold-call visits brought us in touch with people who were awaiting surgery, recovering from surgery, being treated for heart trouble, waiting to deliver a baby, and more.

About two hours in, the pager went off. We were called up to the room of a man who was afraid because of his pending surgery. I kept quiet while the more experienced chaplain listened and tried to be present with everything the man was feeling. In the middle of our prayer we were called to the labor and delivery floor, where we were asked to pray for a prematurely born baby girl. We left that room to respond to a page for a dying woman whose family wanted prayer. Nearly out of breath after racing up the stairs and down the hall, we arrived at a room holding more people than it was designed to. The African-American family surrounding the bed could have been my own. The aged saint covered in white sheets might have been one of my grandmothers. She had a stillness known only to those who are minutes from seeing God. …

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