I stood up and looked at the door, not expecting to see a very familiar face. It was one of the members of my church, whose husband has been quite ill for months. I didn’t know they had come to the inpatient unit, but there she was. I walked over to greet her and she just fell apart in my arms.
I’ve met other Presbyterians in the unit. I’ve even met folks from other churches I had visited. But this was as close as I’ve come to offering care to someone from “my own flock.” I know, of course, that sitting with families I’ve just met and meeting with patients I don’t know is great preparation for pastoral ministry. After all, the minister doesn’t get to put off care visits until she’s met everyone on the roster…
But there is a certain distance between me and these folks that I’ve worked with. I get to know some of them, and I do care about their well-being and spiritual health as they walk through death and into the grieving process. But then I go home, they go back to their lives, and I don’t really see them again. The week-day chaplain does the follow-up care.
But this couple, I’ve known them for as out a year now. They’ve prayed for me and encouraged me in my journey. They’ve trusted me with their joys and concerns. We’ve laughed at ice cream socials and shared the sacrament. They came to the font the day I led a baptismal remembrance service. And when his time comes, I will go to the service. And the next time we share communion it will be without him. I will be there to watch her mourn and find her new way of living. And I will be there to help, God willing.
I’m not her pastor, but on Sunday I was her chaplain. And I am beginning to see how those hats look very much alike.