We've decided it is time to clean up and reorganize our "lower level." On Monday evening I was puttering around down there and came across a great big box of papers. I wasn't sure what they were, so I pulled out a pile of them and started to read.
Years ago, when I was in my forties, I felt called to a vocation as a hospital chaplain. It was to be a long and complicated process, beginning with earning a college degree (not an option for girls in the family I grew up in), then four years of seminary followed by three years of serving a congregation as a pastor, before a person could be considered for "specialized ministry." In my final year of seminary when I was serving as an intern, I knew that I was not called to be a pastor to a congregation and it seemed to me to be immoral to use a congregation for my own purposes. I left the internship and the candidacy process, finished my M.Div. by an alternate route, and wondered what the future held.
I decided that since hospital chaplaincy was where my heart lay, I would pursue additional units of clinical pastoral education (CPE). During that time, my denomination opened another way to chaplaincy -- through the diaconate. I applied to enter this program, which was in its infancy. At that time the head of the candidacy committee for our synod was a very difficult and power-hungry woman who was infamous for zeroing in on one or two candidates each year and making their lives miserable. She never understood my rationale for having withdrawn from the pastoral track, and when I applied to the diaconate, she insisted on a complete psychological evaluation and starting all of the steps over from the beginning, even though I had been months from ordination two years earlier.
The diaconate was denied me.
As I looked through the papers on Monday night, I came across verbatims of hospital visits, theological reflection papers, and other writings from the four CPE units that I completed. Reading through them, I was struck by the fact that they represented solid work. They were well-written and were evidence of good ministry and earnest learning. I couldn't remember some of the patients that were involved. But I began to have a feeling of, "Golly, I really did accomplish something. I did some good for some people who were hurting. I brought God into the hospital setting." I felt happy. The last paper I came across was the psychological assessment, pointing out all of the myriad reasons that I was unsuitable for this work. It was horrible to read it again, and I wish that I hadn't.
On Tuesday morning I felt sad as I went about my work at school. The things in the assessment stayed in my mind and although I did not feel that the description of me was accurate in several of the sections, I wondered if, in fact, the psychologist had been right and I was wrong. In the midst of all of this, a family member phoned with a problem, and although I listened and supported, I felt like I wasn't doing enough. The warm, fuzzy feeling of the evening before was gone and replaced by an awful self doubt.
Around mid-day an email popped up in my inbox. It was from our parish administrator, saying that the pastor was on vacation, that Beverly R had been hospitalized, and would I be able to do a hospital visit. It has been a very, very long time since I last received a request like that.
After dinner, before I left for the hospital, I told my husband about my experience of Monday evening and how it had spilled into Tuesday morning. He was so affirming, saying that he knew I had been called to that ministry, that I had done good work, and that the psychologist was trained to look for pathology. He didn't add it, but I know both of us were thinking, "particularly after hearing from that horrible candidacy director."
I'd visited Beverly in the hospital eleven years ago, supporting her as she sat at her dying husband's bedside. I hadn't known her at all before that night, but out of all of the hospital visits I've ever made, that is one that stands out with clarity of detail. She's "eighty-one-and-a-half" now, she told me, and lives with a multitude of medical issues -- a heart condition requiring a pacemaker, a chronic gastrointestinal disorder, some ongoing pancreatitis -- and her mind is sharp as the proverbial tack. She talked and I listened, she talked some more and I listened some more; she recalled the last time we were together and said how much it had helped her to have me there that night. She said again and again how glad she was that I had come this night. We held hands and prayed together before I left. She thanked me for coming, having no idea whatsoever what she had done for me this night.