Moving from parish to hospital doesn’t seem like a move from death to life but it was. The death part was known in the beginning while the life part came by revelation.
The death part was a gradual descent into failure. Before going to seminary my mentor talked about the ministry of the whole church. He had been a missionary on the island of Kauai in Hawaii where the had a chance to put this into motion. All ages were part of this ministry and he had stories to illustrate. Back in the states folks in the congregation thought the ordained were the ministers. Laity were members.
I entered seminary to prepare for a vision of the Church where all are called to ministry wherever we are. Our Baptism is the beginning. My seminary experience enhanced this vision and my senior year I wrote a paper on how I would go about making the vision a reality. The ministry of the whole church was my blue print. My educational efforts after nine years were disappointing. One person said, “If I wanted to go to seminary I would go to seminary.” Seminary was not my goal for all. I missed the mark somehow.
An opportunity came to serve as a Christian Education director with the possibility of becoming a hospital chaplain at some future point. I pursued the vision of the ministry of the whole church from my new position. Realization came during several Lents where adults served as facilitators for small groups with the youth of the parish. The training of the adults included a listening course.
Concluding my time as Christian Education director and completing my training as a certified chaplain I began my ministry in the hospital. My vision of the ministry of the whole church was now off the table, dead. I could see no future for that vision in a hospital setting. I would still work out of a Baptism ministry mode but I did not see myself promoting that in the hospital.
Then a person who had been a listener with the youth discussions made an observation. As a member of the Hospital Auxiliary who took the cart around with items to purchased she noticed patients wanted to talk. The rule forbid such when you take the notions cart around. She came to my office hoping I would do something about that.
From other blogs you can see where I am moving. The training of lay people to be story listeners came from the question: How can we change the rule. After obtaining permission a training course was developed. Over the years many from the Auxiliary answer a calling in pastoral care. In the New Testament tradition of the word parakaleo, they became a “called one along side” in a ministry of presence. Parishes and congregations of different denominations sent lay people to participate and the program continues today as others do the training, supervision, and debriefing. The ministry of the whole Church took on a different form.
From death to life renewed the vision of the ministry of the whole church on a scale and in a way I had not anticipated. The Holy Spirit moves in wonderful ways and the journey is continuous.
I remember a story from my professor of pastoral care, Ruel Howe, who helped Implement the vision in seminary. When he traveled he was frequently asked “what do you do?” He thought saying theology professor was a little too much. One day he said, “I’m a pilgrim.” The one asking the question replied, “I thought they were all dead.” He said, “Not this kind, this kind moves from death to life.” Yes, that is the kind of pilgrim I have experienced, more than once, over my 87 years. To die with Christ and rise with Him is our daily Baptismal journey.
Marlin Whitmer, retired hospital chaplain
Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 and later the art of story metaphor listening.