The Taser's Edge

The Shape and Shapers of Ministry
September 14, 2008, 9:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized




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From the beginning of my time in the program, one of my constant questions was, “How long is too long for a visit?”  I talked with others about my feeling that my tendency would always be to stay longer than was necessary or helpful.  I have come to think that this concern was shaped by an experience I had in the field education church that I served for a year.

            Mr. T was a man whom I had visited regularly in his nursing home throughout the summer.  He was one of those people whom I had picked to continue growing in relationship with, both for his sake and for the sake of my connection to the church.  After two months of visits, he became ill and was hospitalized at Duke.  On the 8th floor, I sat with him and his two middle-aged daughters one Friday afternoon for hours and hours.  The semester was in full swing, I was busy all the time, and yet when I walked out of that room that evening, I felt that it was the best use of my time all semester, despite the fact that I had not really done anything other than be present to him and to his daughters.  I came away amazed at how grateful those women were at having this stranger in their midst.

            Because this was the main experience that I had had of pastoral care in a hospital setting, I have found that it has been the archetypical experience against which I have weighed much of my CPE experiences thus far.  It has also determined my idea of the ‘right way’ to do pastoral care.  The ‘right way’ in Mr. T’s case was long hours spent talking about anything, talking about nothing, perhaps praying, but certainly getting to know the family’s story.  Dissonance arose when I juxtaposed this ‘right way’ in my head with my assumptions of what CPE expected of my clinical hours.  And it was just that—my assumptions of what CPE wanted, rather than CPE’s actual expectations.  At the beginning, all I had were those ill-founded assumptions.

            At the beginning of my CPE unit, although I had it in the back of my mind that I knew the ‘right way’ to do ministry, I also held in the front of my mind the idea that there was no right way to minister.  My conception was that the differentiation of styles of ministry was mostly formed out of the individuality of ministers (i.e., I am a unique type of minister because I am a unique human being).  Now, I still believe that everyone’s style of ministry comes out of their personalities, and that this does make everyone’s style unique, but the shape of ministry in a given interaction is not solely determined by my personal style.  (Praise God!)

            I am slowly coming to realize that the pastoral encounter, if it is effective, is perhaps most shaped by the particular encounter rather than the particular minister.  At some level, this seems like the way that it should be.  My personality is certainly something that I should bring into the room with me each time I make a visit.  But if that is the only thing I bring into the room, then the focus of the visit will be me.  And I am certainly the wrong focus when I am supposedly present for the patient.

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