On Fridays I go to the hospital. It's been a few years since City By the
Sea's two hospitals formed part of my routine, as I've been serving
churches in other directions. So going in last Friday afternoon and
stopping at the Pastoral Services office to check my new congregation's
names against the alphabetical patient list brought back memories. Here
I spent the summer of 2000 as a CPE Resident, nervously figuring out
how to "cold call" unsuspecting sick people and expectant mothers on
bed rest, how to get in and out of the NICU without irritating the
staff, how to talk to the nurses in the step-down nursery, where the
babies with no home to go to just yet might languish for a week or two
Mostly I struggled with my identity.
The CPE Supervisor told us to claim it clearly and confidently. "I'm
Chaplain Songbird," we were to say, "would you like a visit?"
Those may not have been the exact words, but I do remember feeling that
whatever they were they sounded false and awkward coming out of my
mouth. I was Seminarian Songbird, Mama of Three Songbird,
Wish-I-Had-a-Boyfriend Songbird, Owned-By-Four-Cats Songbird,
Paying-a-Fortune-for-Camps-and-Nannies Songbird. But Chaplain Songbird?
What the heck?
I remember trying to find a combination of words that felt more
accurate. First of all, I began to believe one of the tasks of CPE must
be resisting authority, for me, anyway, so I always looked for another
way around. And to say I was Chaplain Songbird seemed to be
over-stating the case when I managed to get lost on the 2nd floor of
the Maine General Building when I really wanted to be on the 1st.
I tried everything, saying I was from the Chaplain's Department or the
Pastoral Services Department, but in the end I decided the Supervisor
was right, darn it! And so I went to those doors in the cancer
pavilion, where I sometimes found patients who really were there for
the air conditioning (asthma sufferers) and where a woman said, "I
didn't order that!" I went to the quiet rooms where the women on bed
rest tried not to lose their ever-loving minds, and to the shared rooms
where the teenagers with no insurance landed, to the four bed room
where an angry woman in premature labor resisted the help offered, to
the delivery room where a 42-year-old college professor and her
56-year-old husband ended a pregnancy after a prenatal diagnosis that
included Trisomy 21 and additional complications.
"I'm Chaplain Songbird," I said. "I'm here to help, if I can. Would you like to talk? May I say a prayer with you?"
I stood at bedsides making myself small as possible next to equipment,
or I leaned on windowsills in a room filled with family, or I pulled a
chair up close to hold hands and pray.
Last Friday I sat at the little desk, looking at the lists, and a CPE
Resident, just beginning his summer, came in and asked the Supervisor a
question about a verbatim. Oh! How glad I am to be beyond those, to
never ever have to attend another IPR session, glad that my tour of the
morgue is nine years behind me.
As an Interim Minister, I come and go in people's lives much like a CPE
Resident, and at times I've grappled with how to identify myself. "I'm
the new interim minister at First Parish in YarPortFord."
Really, it's simple. I learned it in CPE.
"I'm here to see Mr. Jones," I tell the nurse. "I'm his pastor."
And for as long as it lasts, I am.