Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Theology of Chaplaincy: or "What I am saying tomorrow at a meeting at St John's Village."

Some twenty years ago I was a resident Minister at a University in the middle of San Francisco and at the beginning of every academic year I would meet with new students and give a little speech. “You need to know I have no power in this place,” I’d say, “I don’t  hand out a syllabus or course description, I don’t write evaluations or recommendations, I don't end up our time together by giving you a grade, but I aim to be a safe place in a dangerous journey.”

There would be a silence after that, and some of the students would look at me and never speak again. Others would go on to say hello, be polite, and maybe let a relationship grow over time.  But a few, some, of those present would start to explore with me the places where an open-ended open-hearted conversation held in confidence and great respect might lead.

So I had students coming to talk to me about sex before marriage, about cheating before final exams, about the deaths of grandmothers at odd times. I had students coming to me to talk about why they were studying to be accountants when they wanted to play music or serve coffee for a few years following graduation. I had students coming to me because they were so damn happy they had to tell someone, or they were so scared and lonely and they didn’t want to be alone with that. And I tried to honour everybody because it all mattered.

These people were beginning the first act of their lives: they were sometimes tentative, often courageous, occasionally prone to make great splattering mistakes; but it was an unspeakable privilege and joy to be invited to share the road with them for a time. I feel much the same about being the interim chaplain in an aged care village with adjacent terrace housing.

We’re in the third act here, but the questions are as important and the emotions can run as high as in the first. They still have to do with what wants to happen, with where the meaning is, with what matters in the end. It still has to do with testing limits as well as letting new possibilities emerge.  And it is still a great responsibility and an awesome privilege to accompany people on the way.

I am a man formed in a particular understanding of history and spirituality and psychology and poetry and politics and piety called Anglican Christianity; but I’ve learned much from a Sufi poet named Rumi, lived some years ago in a Buddhist temple for four months and loved it, and probably have picked up more practical wisdom from good Hollywood comedies and brassy Broadway musicals than I ever expected. So please know that I don’t have an axe to grind or a matched set of beliefs to sell; feel free to ignore me if you like or use me as you wish; and if you cared to share a part of your journey with me, I aim to be a safe place. 

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