Saturday, February 5, 2022

The Emergence of Story Listening

My introduction to story listening came in the summer of 1953 in a Clinical Pastoral Training session at Bellevue Hospital, New York City. Fred Kuether was our supervisor. He gave us the experience of story listening by listening to  our stories and seeking to see how we were staying with the stories we were writing down in the verbatim of remembered conversations, one a week for 11 weeks.  

The dialogical approach was reinforced at the Virginia Theological Seminary where Ruel Howe introduced us to Martin Buber's I Thou approach. He lectured in a dialogical manner as the content of the class was a shared experience between professor and students. He later wrote a book on the Miracle of Dialogue.

After ordination I began practicing story listening in difference parishes. I finished my needed quarter of Clinical Pastoral Education in 1964 at Bellevue in order to be certified as a Hospital Chaplain. A couple summers before that I service as night chaplain at Bellevue to test my calling. 

In 1965 I became a full time chaplain at St. Luke's Hospital in Davenport, Iowa. Story listening was my focus as I made visits with hospital patients and staff.

I came across a book by Chad Sarah, The Samaritans, during those first years. The book is about his beginning a suicide prevention group in London. As they began to see people in emotional distress, the people would gather in the undercroth of the church waiting to visit a counselor. Lay people began serving tea and engaging in conversation. Then the professionals discovered they only needed to see half of those coming. As a result the lay people became a part of the program. Half the book was the story of their beginning and the second half was about the different emotions of the people who came. They were the same emotional dynamics of many of the hospital patients.

With the book as background a person came to my office with a request. Mavoreen said, "The Auxiliary rule is we are not to visit with patients when we take the notions cart around. I think patients want to visit, how can we change the rule." The change didn't happen over night. When I proposed to the Administrator training lay visitors I encounter resistance, "we're only concerned with what takes place within these four walls." Getting involved with folks not part of the medical community was overstepping.  At a later visit as I persisted he made a proposal. I would have to get permission from the Auxiliary, nursing service, and the medical staff. The Auxiliary said yes, nursing service said we will go with the doctors decision, and the medical staff of the doctors took over an hour to decide and then they made a decision not directly related to what we were about to do. The Sisters of Mercy visit patients and they aren't ordained. I know this since the secretary of the meeting told me some time later. After retiring he took the Befriender training.  He said later, "As a doctor I knew what I would say when I entered the room, as a Befriender I would find out."

To be continued.



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