There have been many who have asked “So what was it like to be a hospital chaplain?” The answer to this question is inevitably too long for the person asking. I spent the summer as a full-time chaplain at a Phoenix hospital and the experience was rich enough to defy summation.
I was consistently invited into the lives of people, who, seconds earlier, were complete strangers to me. I was told the life stories, great fears, and incredible sorrows. The patients I saw were ordinary people. These are not the voices that we often hear in memoirs or on CNN. Most of us would never get the opportunity to hear these stories because, to be honest, we generally don’t care. People poured out their hearts to me. Often they were not Christians and had no real value for the title “pastor.” I was struck by the fact that every day I would come across a “Holy Moment.” I was privileged to enter the life of my neighbor, the person my God commands me to love. I have tried to do so many times over the years; this was the first time my neighbor was interested. No matter how weary or burnt out I felt that day a patient or family member would fall into my schedule for by divine providence. They would then share a crippling fear or starling hope with me and we would talk or pray for quite a while.
Thankfully this happened only once or twice a day because I doubt I could have born the weight of the significance. It was hit-and-run beauty, like a flower in the desert, shocking and then gone; I would be left with the humbling reality that God had used me in a moment which I was woefully unprepared for. I was a tool: a word which we ministers often use of ourselves, yet in this time it was more obvious than ever before. In situations which I was not (nor could I ever have been) prepared for, amazing things happened. Plainly, I am not that good. If I had doubted the reality that God takes an active role in the work of ministry it evaporated in the hospital. In a way even the ordinary conversations with people were valuable in their own way. But it was the Holy Moments, those surprising conversations that stood out against the white noise of suffering, that I treasure from my time as a Chaplain.