Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chaplaincy Studies

Universal Life Church
At the end, we're all the same; it's the journey that makes us different.
Recently a dear friend, the woman who introduced me to my wife and who, over her lifetime,  helped so many find happiness, closed her eyes for the last time.  She lived a vibrant and full 77 years; four children, nine grandchildren , countless friends and even had two men who loved her deeply as no others could.  What struck me as important was the dignity she showed during her final months while disease challenged her at death's doorstep many, many times.
During those months I learned to enjoy the time I spent in her hospital room at her bedside.   On the good days we spoke of many things and she worked hard to re-tell the stories of her family's odyssey and tales of her many experiences.  In the end it was without the luxuries and even niceties we've come to  take for granted and what was left was true humanity; the core from which we all evolve.
This course is a fitting tribute to those who have been seated by a bedside, comforted the grieving, blessed those in need and served in our armed and home forces whether military, fire, police or civil organization.  The question that we as students face is what are we going to do with the education.
In preparing for this final examination, I re-read  the entire course work and found that the weekly work was select and focused but, when read in the whole, the lesson and thread that bound the chapters was that the calling of the Chaplaincy was beyond a typical clergy role.  Many of us became ordained because of the clear message of the Universalist Life practice; "Do only that which is right".   Many others to become wedding Officiants, start a church, spread the word or just add "Reverend" to their other honors and titles.  Yet in the Chaplaincy there appears to be a role that transcends the rest and that addresses the humanity I wrote of in describing my friend's passing.
And surely, there can be no larger constituency than that of a Chaplain. As clergy we often look to define the universe  in our message.   For a Chaplain there are no boundaries, no required rites or ceremony, dogma or limitation by religious practice.  What exists is an instant relationship defined by cause and need.  It's about practice, not form, and those desiring our presence have a desire for comfort, reassurance and blessing.  This course identified multiple opportunities for those wishing to serve and offered creative ideas of how to prepare, approach and perform the duties and obligations of the chaplaincy.  Helpful suggestions and even lists of materials and equipment needed was included and there were even "how to get started" ideas in the various disciplines.
But, as the course points out, there's nothing like experience and it also identifies the most difficult part of the process, where to take first step.  And that's the question that the course can't answer.  It's a process for each of us needs  to define for ourselves.  For me it's about weddings and honoring those who have and continue to serve our country.  Patriotism is a wonderful expression of the chaplaincy and spending productive time with members of law enforcement, fire fighters, veterans and active duty military personnel are those I hope to serve.
Several weeks ago I heard a learned member of the clergy speak and relate a story about the first time she was sent as a theological seminary student to a local hospital to perform the duties of a hospital's chaplain.  She told how, without other than classroom training, she began her rounds visiting numerous patients, chatting with staff and trying to understand the scope of her duties.  Being in a metropolitan setting, chaplains and clergy were plentiful but on one particular evening, she found herself to be the only member of the clergy  (although not yet ordained) in the hospital, when she received a call from one of the nurses telling her that a patient was asking for the chaplain.
With her heart in her throat and beating faster than normal, she entered the patient's room and found a young man who was quickly losing his battle with cancer.  She met the family and asked what she could do to help.  His father asked her to tell his son about God and try and put his mind at ease.  As she told her story you could hear the anguish in her voice as she talked about being stumped, not knowing what to say or, if she could think of anything, how to say it.  After a few short minutes she decided that her best course of action was to say a prayer, not telling the boy about God but praying that he would soon find peace.  When finished she fled the room knowing she failed and asking God for help in finding the words and being able to share them with the patient.
After a restless night thinking about what and how she was going to reassure the young man, she returned to her duties at the hospital, began her rounds and soon found herself on the hospital wing where she was the evening before.  As she entered the hospital room she was surprised to find it empty - no sign of the patient and no sign of the family.  The room had been cleaned and was awaiting its next occupant.  The student headed to the nurse's station only to find out that the young man died during the night and she ended her story expressing the helpless feelings she had, and has carried for 19 years, because she was unable to speak of a subject she know well having been unprepared for the circumstances.
This story is a good example of why the course teachings are valuable and, even in a formal seminary setting, would have been beneficial.  As students we've been allowed to hear from an experienced teacher and learn about the situations we might find ourselves faced with.  Would I have liked more stories and examples of the world of a chaplain?  Yes, this is an area I'd like to see expanded in the course work, where learning about real-life experiences, more than just a few, would be helpful.
And one final point I'd like to express, something that the course mentions but not as often as I wish it would teach; that silence is a powerful communicator and allowing those we serve to  listen to the quiet and reflect in their own way; it's sometimes the greatest gift of all.
Rev.Stan Hirschman

Many people get ordained through the ULC as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary. If you need minister supplies or online ceremonies, we have a wide selection to choose from, as well as a place for spiritual articles and spiritual bookmarks. Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.

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