No one was more surprised about my decision to enter ministry than I. As one of those spiritual, non-religious types, I feel that keeping my soul open to the simple directions from God and exploring what ministry looks like for me with an open mind and heart is essential. As part of this exploration I was called to serve as a prayer chaplain in my community church. As a lay spiritual leader, I was taught to pray with and for others and to encourage others to be actively involved in their own prayer lives. I immediately realized a deeper spiritual connection with God through serving and was interested in the way other chaplains served in outreach to congregants in hospitals, nursing homes, and through telephone and home-visits. I felt I was unprepared for this kind of ministry and my hope was that this course would give me a starting place to find more about what is expected of a chaplain and what I should do to prepare for this kind of volunteer position. I am grateful that I found this and much more.
The greatest gift from Reverend Moore’s discourses is his emphasis on the chaplain’s role as the one who is there; The one who asks, “How can I help?” Understanding this central message immediately helped me in my prayer chaplain duties. I realized that knowing the right thing to say or having the right theological wisdom is not what people need from a chaplain. Giving an honest, “I don’t know why,” and being there with compassion and a tissue is far more helpful than any words of wisdom in times of need. This helped me see that as a chaplain, I do not need to know what to do, I need only ask how I can help, offer prayer, and stay in the present moment with congregants. This is something I feel confident and comfortable with doing, so I immediately started participating in the outreach ministry at my church.
Some of my reluctance to serve in outreach as chaplain is I do not always feel qualified to give advice. Reverend Moore makes the point that honestly answering that I am not an expert in certain areas and making referrals to see someone who is qualified is an important part of chaplaincy. I enjoy helping people find resources and feel confident this is something I can do. I now understand that, as chaplain, I should give advice only when someone asks and I should not feel the need to be the great dispenser of knowledge. Overwhelming someone with information can make the situation much more stressful. Instead, I can take the current facts of the situation into silent prayer and listen to the congregant and to God’s simple directions.
Listening is key to being an effective chaplain. Much of the advice for active listening was review for me, but so important I wrote the key ideas, such as the paraphrasing and reflecting sentence starters, on note cards and added them to my toolbox as reminders. As someone just beginning ministry, I found all examples of short replies and questions to ask in different situations very helpful. What they really reinforce is that there is nothing to know. I only need a willingness to be open to helping others in the way they need to be helped. Only they know what they need. The toolbox itself is a very useful tip. It is surprising how well the business cards have worked. I designed them with my contact information, a nice quote from Mother Teresa, and plenty of room to write a message. As suggested, if someone is asleep when I visit them in the hospital, I leave a note to let them know I’m praying for them and to call me if I can help in anyway. I’ve also left my card with other congregants, friends, and co-workers to let them know I’m praying for them. Many people have kept the card, because they like the quote and they comment it is nice to have a reminder someone is praying for them. I’ve also used some inspirational pamphlets that I keep in the toolkit. I used Post-It note colored tabs to mark the suggested comforting scripture in my Bible. Not only can I open right to the passage, but I can color code verses by topic. In the few instances someone has asked to read scripture with me, I have found it especially touching and comforting to read allowed, chorally. It is surprising to me how the space around us changed and there seemed no need for further explanation or discussion, but maybe just a hug.
I appreciate the discussion about the chaplain’s role in ceremony and worship. The central message is clearly summed up in the statement, “It is to develop an attitude that can bring worship into any space where people meet.” I identified with story of Moses taking off his shoes to connect with holy ground. I learned it is a greater gift still to help someone hold sacred space for themselves and their loved ones when they are not able to do it themselves.
Counseling is an area that is new to me, so it is helpful to have Reverend Moore’s ideas for creating a safe place and for listening to the counselee to find out the best way to help them. I feel that this in itself builds trust, because the counselee feels “heard.” Again, the focus is not about what I think the congregant needs, but what they feel they need. Making the congregant the focus makes me more likely to help them make the changes in a way that will work for them and leaves me open to follow my own inner guidance to facilitate the process, rather than dictating it. I found the ideas for breaking up the sessions and helping people replace old habits with new ones helpful, but I could use more training in this area. It would be helpful to have more how-tos, but this could probably turn into an entirely separate course.
It would also be helpful to include more sentence starters, general comments, and questions to use with people in different situations. Those given were very good, but I’d like to know others, for instance some ways to delve for more information to make it easier for me to assist people in counseling. In my primary job I am a science teacher. After taking a course on inquiry where good inquiry and encouraging comments where modeled for me, I began designing lessons around them, so I could facilitate the learning process rather than showing an answer. My role as chaplain may be short term, but will still include facilitating a process with the congregant, so the more modeling I can see the more I will be able to do this on my own. It may also be helpful to receive a list of suggested readings. I really enjoyed Reverend Moore’s perspective that chaplains should be readers, so I’d love to know what books he suggests.
I plan to continue using guidance from this course to further develop skills in my role as prayer chaplain. I am currently completing classes for certification as a licensed teacher in my church and I feel what I learned will help in this role also. In addition, I am pursuing the chaplaincy endorsement and Master of Ministry from the ULC Seminary. At this point I feel I will continue facilitating people in prayer and spiritual development as a volunteer chaplain and possibly as an assistant to the spiritual leader of a church, but I am excitedly keeping an open mind and heart as to what my ministry will look like after my goals are met.