The ability to articulate a theological understanding of authorized ministry as I exercise pastoral leadership.
- The ability to articulate a theological understanding of authorized ministry, and to relate it to the practice of ministry.
- The ability to understand the nature, use, and misuse of power and authority, and to exercise them appropriately and effectively in authorized ministry.
- The ability to engage in community leadership that is collaborative and transformative.
- The ability to discern God’s mission in the world and, in response, to lead ministries of compassion, nurture, justice, and proclamation that support fullness of life for all people.
- The ability to preach the good news, lead worship and participate in the sacraments in a manner faithful to the broader Christian heritage and appropriate to the characteristics of a specific culture and setting.
- The ability to provide effective and appropriate pastoral care and Christian education, and to equip and motivate others to share in these ministries.
- The ability to organize and implement programs, administer the operations of a complex organization, and initiate change when appropriate.
- The ability to read the contexts of a community’s ministry and creatively lead that community through change or conflict.
- The ability to lead and encourage ministries of evangelism, service, stewardship and social transformation.
- The ability to understand and participate in the financial administration of the church and other religious organizations.
It was my grandmother that was the first one to confirm that my life was to be devoted to ministry. I was only nine years old at a family Christmas gathering when she sat both my mother and me down and revealed this. I do not feel as if I chose a life of ministry, but rather that I was chosen by God to live a life of service and ministry. Even in middle school and high school when it was that time of year for class mates to vote on cute awards such as: Most Athletic, Most Popular, etc., I was always chosen Most Spiritual. My life from youth has been devoted to God and my local church. I guess that is why it was not that big of a shock for my mother or myself to hear the news from my grandmother. In the UCC we believe that “God is still speaking.” I fully understand this. My first understanding of this came from my Pentecostal beliefs in “Tongues and Interpretation.” This to a Pentecostal means that an individual receives a message from the Holy Spirit and often this message comes out from an individual who has the gift of “tongues” and then this message is revealed through an individual who has the gift of “interpretation.” So again, it was no shock that at the age of 14 my pastor confirmed in church the message of my grandmother that I was to have a life of ministry. Yet as a young man, I was so fearful of what this life of ministry was to be. How was I to lead God’s people? Yet here I am ready to be the minister and leader God has called me to be.
It was while I was at Point University that I began to discern just what is my call to ministry. It would be simple to say it is to lead God’s people, to walk journeys with them in both good and bad times, to be the instrument of the Divine here on earth, and to show and to witness the love of God to all. But it is much greater of a role than this. While I do fully embrace, and accept this calling on my life of leading and ministering to God’s beloved. I also fully embrace and accept that God has allowed me to journey down a few different paths in my life to finally lead me to this calling. In my youth, I was naive to believe that the role of the minister was to simply preach a sermon on Sunday morning, officiate weddings and funerals, baptize, and offer the Eucharist. While this is the role of the local pastor this calling goes so much deeper. During my internships at Point University and Candler School of Theology I could dig deeper into this life of ministry that I am called to. It was during these internships that I also began to accept my strengths in ministry and to uncover my weaknesses as well. Yet I fully feel that you have to have both strength and weakness to be an effective minister. In revealing my weaknesses, I will also reveal my strengths.
As I began this journey into ministry I always thought that the pastor was to be the jack of all trades and in some way master them as well. When I look back on this thought of mine, I realize this is not the case. Seminary training touches on just a few of the daily administration needs of a local congregation. My seminary training did not come with an accounting degree, web design or social media specialty, or a handyman maintenance background. Yet these talents somehow fit under the hat of the local pastor. I discovered a new way of thinking about and understanding my role as a minister to a local congregation while I was in one of my biblical studies classes at Point University. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 tells of many different gifts that are given to individuals by God.
“To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.“
This passage from Paul began to redefine my understanding of the role of the local pastor. As a pastor my gift is to lead and encourage others to find their gifts given to them by God. This is how I see my role as an administrator to a church that I am called to serve; to work alongside of the members of the congregation to use their gifts for the building of the church. While I am not good at accounting, I can work with a member of the congregation to maintain and budget the money. While I am handy with a set of tools, I can still call on others in the church to help maintain and repair the church. My role is not to micromanage but rather to work with the members so that we all take ownership of the church to grow and prosper.
Worship and Preaching
Coming together to worship is not just a time to come and sing a few hymns, say a few prayers, and hear a sermon. It is so much more. It is a time of community, a time of sharing, a time of encouraging, and a time of healing. To plan a worship service to me is one of the more sacred jobs of a pastor and the ministry team. I believe we must learn to stop our own thoughts around what the service is to be themed, what songs are to be sung, and what message to bring and to be still to listen for the still speaking voice of God to guide. I do not know the needs of everyone who attends services but I fully believe that God does and if I move myself out of the way to allow the guidance and movement of the Spirit of God to move, powerful things can happen. I am simply the vessel for God to use to send out a meaningful message. This is something that I pray every time I sit down to write a sermon.
This is also the way I approach working with the music minister in song selection. Planning worship is not the sole responsibility of the minister; it is a communal responsibility. A simple guideline such as a bulletin is a great guide to keep all of us on track, but it is not the be all, end all way to lead worship. I fully believe in letting the movement of God guide us, and if we need a bit longer to allow the healing work to be performed then allow it. I have experienced a time when I was in a place of worship and the spirit of God was moving and then as if the alarm clock went off the pastor shut down the movement and closed out the service. I remember leaving that service still longing for a deeper touch from God. If we believe that God is still speaking, then why do we want to shut down God’s voice or spirit during services?
Many individuals often feel closer to God through worship and not necessarily the sermon. As a minister/preacher I should take my own feelings out of the mix to allow the spirit of God to move and touch individuals in whatever way possible. In my understanding of this concept, I am so thankful that I have served on worship planning teams while at Candler and in my internships. I am not a musician of any sorts but I am so thankful that I am fully committed to working with music ministers in the hopes to invite the ever-present spirit of God among us. I have strong convictions of how important it is for us to find our own voices in how we worship the living God and open ourselves up to God’s spirit. This can be seen and heard in a sermon I preached while at Point University (click here to view the sermon text).
Worship in the form of music holds special place in my heart. It allows us to open ourselves up and to ready ourselves to the movement of the spirit of God. This does not take the place of the importance of bring to good news of still speaking God. To open ourselves up to both can enrich our experience of being in the presents of the Divine. I hold a dual Bachelor of Arts degree from Point University in Biblical Studies and Preaching Ministry. To earn this dual degree, I was required to take 7 different preaching classes to learn many different disciplines of sermon exegeses and sermon delivery. Sermon writing and preaching are a passion for me. One of the biggest joys in my role as a minister is to take the weekly text from the lectionary, exegete it as I dig deep in to the scholarly references to better understand the meaning and context in which our first century audience heard and understood. I love to then offer up a meaningful sermon for today’s context to bring a message from God. I was privileged to study under two amazing professors: Dr. Billy Strother and Dr. Carson Reed.
Yet It was Dr. Tom Long that was the biggest reason that I wanted to attend Candler School of Theology. I was blessed that I could study under Dr. Long before his retirement from Candler. While Dr. Billy and Dr. Reed challenged me to horn my craft of exegeses, sermon writing, scripture reading, and preaching, it was Dr. Long that assigned me the most difficult sermon I was to preach. One of the lessons I learned while at Point was a minister needs to spend roughly 20 hours studying and preparing their sermon. This may be the case for some ministers if they can carve out the time but most ministers do not have this kind of time. I mention this concept to better explain the difficulty of the sermon I was to write for Dr. Long.
Since I my undergraduate degree is a BA in Biblical Studies with a dual major in Preaching Ministry I could skip Preaching 101 and take Dr. Long’s advance preaching class: Sermon Development and Delivery that met on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The sermon concept I was given was “crisis.” The concept of preaching a crisis sermon is simple. A minister may look over the lectionary to see the text which they may use for the coming Sunday and begin to prepare, and then a crisis hits. For example, someone might walk into a school on a Friday afternoon and begin firing a gun killing several students. The sermon that a minister has been preparing is now not relevant and when Sunday morning arrives the congregation is in pain and looking for hope. A new sermon must be written and preached.
So, while others in the class could know the date on which they were to preach and had the ample time to prepare for their sermon. This was not the case for me, I wasn’t as lucky as they were, or was I? During class on a Tuesday, Dr. Long said, “James you’re up on Thursday; your topic: the tsunami in the Philippines.” I had less than 48 hours to find a text and prepare a sermon; a sermon that was to be theologically sound, and not simply a bunch of fluffy hopeful statements. This was most difficult sermon I have written to date. Yet I was lucky to have had this assignment. My luck came in the way of now being prepared to face such events and the blessings that come when you bring a difficult yet meaningful word of hope to a grieving congregation. My regret about this sermon is that it was not recorded for me to invite you to view, yet I have attached the working draft of the sermon for you to review (click here to view the sermon text). God is still speaking to us every day. My calling to ministry is to invite congregants to be still, open their hearts to listen, and invite the spirit of God to move within them no matter if that is in the form of worship or in the preaching.
Mission and Outreach
One of the things that I learned from both my internship and my membership at Kirkwood United Church of Christ is how to do mission and outreach with care and compassion. When I joined KUCC and began my journey into ministry, KUCC was a small, yet growing congregation. Yet KUCC has never let its size hinder its mission of welcoming everyone. Mission and outreach is just one way of being the love and light of God in a community. As a member, I have such pride in how the presence and love of KUCC over flows into the local Kirkwood community. Yet as a person on a journey into ministry, I have been richly blessed to have amazing mentors to teach and guide me on the importance and the impact that doing an outreach ministry can have on the community. My prayer in going forward into parish ministry is to take the lessons I have learned at KUCC and bring them to the church I am called to serve.
Every year KUCC has partnered with a local elementary school in providing much needed school supplies and backpacks to local children. While it is easy to simply bring the backpacks and supplies to the school and drop them off, KUCC goes a step beyond. On the first day of school members of the congregation and clergy line the route to the school to welcome the students back and to hand out the supplies and backpacks. This may seem like a small gesture to some but to the families, students, and staff this means a great deal. This simple outreach brings the congregation and community together. This partnership has deepened over the years to now include offering full Thanksgiving meals and Christmas gifts in the form of an Angel Tree. Our presence at this local elementary school and our working with them through this outreach ministry has now led to the school offering KUCC the use of their facility to hold weekly worship while our new sanctuary is being built. Yet this partnership will not stop there. Once our new sanctuary is finished the school is allowing KUCC the use of their parking lot during weekly worship for congregation members to park in. This is only one of the successful outreach ministries of KUCC. This is an outreach mission that I feel will help any congregation grow, and one that I hope to invite any church I am privileged to serve to offer, if they do not already have something similar in place.
The last two Saturdays of the month, KUCC opens its doors to the local community in offering meals. This outreach ministry is called Soup Saturday. Yet it is not just the offering of one meal. During this time KUCC also opens the Clothing Closet. This ministry offers clothes that are donated by the congregation members to individuals in need. The outpouring of supplies given to KUCC has always over flowed. Items offered to individuals are not simply clothing but also personal items that a family or individual may need such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, etc. Still KUCC takes this mission one step further by also opening the Food Pantry. In this additional ministry, congregation members bring food supplies to be given to families or individuals. KUCC tries hard to not simply offer one hot meal on these faithful Saturdays but to bag up additional food that a family or individual can have during the rest of the week. The leader of this ministry is faithful in letting the congregation know the needs of the pantry to offer full meals such as a complete spaghetti dinner, just to give an example. This mission and outreach as also sparked other ministries and outreach programs. KUCC has now partnered with Mad Houser’s. This organization builds small portable shelters for homeless communities. (include pictures of the build I was on). This mission helps the homeless to have a small space to call their own, which gives them a safe place to store their belongings and a shelter from the environment. In building these shelters this organization also includes such things as a chain and lock to offer security and new sleeping bags to provide warmth. Not only does KUCC work with Mad Houser’s but now also works with local refugees in the setting up of apartments with much needed supplies such as furniture and other household items. In these and more ways, I have seen just how we as a church are called to be God’s love, acceptance, and light in the world. I hope to offer similar ways of contributing while serving in ministry.
My journey to ministry was not a simple one, to say the least. I do feel that in my journey to ministry, God placed me in the right spot to learn skills to help others in a few ways. At the age of seventeen, I began my training in the beauty industry. I entered Bradenton Beauty Academy. After successfully completing the required 1200 hours of training and was ready to take boards another twist happened. I made the choose to further my education and attend barber school. Once I completed 500 hours of barber training, I took my barber boards and obtained my barber license in 1988. As my journey, has begun to unfold toward ministry. I feel that God has begun to show me how I can use this training to better serve others. There is an age old saying that I feel applies to how I feel God is speaking to me to use my talents. “Give a person a fish and they can eat for a day. Teach a person to fish, they can eat for a life time.”
As a Master Barber, I can use my skills and knowledge to train others the craft of barbering through an apprenticeship program. My desire has been strengthened through the inspiration of my pastor Susannah Davis. She has been inspirational in helping a young woman, who attends KUCC and has 2 children she supports, find a job in a local restaurant. She began by working in the kitchen and training with the chef. She is now the cook for this restaurant. My desire to use my talents to begin an apprenticeship as a ministry of the church I am called to serve. As a ministry of the church I would like to begin and train others in the craft of barbering in the hopes to have a better financial life. Yet I would not like to stop there.
In my life God, has richly blessed me with friends in many different trades. One trade is that of culinary arts. I would like to tap into these talents in training those who would like to learn this trade. This would take shape in the same way that KUCC offers Soup Saturday. Those training to become chefs would do the cooking for this ministry as well as weekly congregational meals. I feel that the church moving forward should look deeper into what it means to fully meet the needs of the congregation and the surrounding community that it is called to serve. In the age in which we currently live there are several individuals who have suffered hurt from the church and are reluctant to return. I strongly feel these types of ministries will be the welcoming back that some may need.
Sense of Vocation
I grew up in Ruskin Florida, a small town just south of Tampa. At the age of four, my family started attending East Ruskin Pentecostal Church of God, where only seven years later upon the start of a private school the name of the church was changed to, South Hillsborough Full Gospel Church and Christian school; it was in this church that I accepted Christ into my life and at the age of thirteen was baptized.
To better understand my acceptance of Christ, I need to take you back a few years. The year was 1978 and I was just nine years of age when I fell severely ill. My mother took me to my pediatrician yet nothing he gave me could break my fevers which lasted for over two weeks. Though I was sick with fevers we never missed a church service. It was a Sunday evening when a message came out during service, one that would change my life and that of my mothers. The message was, “Someone is holding something so dear to them that they will not even share him with God and they need to give him over, as God has great plans for him, and if they do not God will take him from them.” Our assistant pastor Billy Denton came over and picked me up to take me down. When he went to pick me up, my mother drew back to hit him in protection of me.
With tears in his eyes he said to my mother, “Sister Bowman, if you do not give him over, God will take him and you know it.” I was laid on the altar and it was now that my mother prayed, “God, He is yours. If you take him then take him, if you give him back to me he is yours and I will care for him and raise him for you. Have your way.” After my mother prayed this prayer, my fever broke and for the first time in over two weeks, I walked out of church that night on my own. Once I gave my life over to Christ, I was baptized. This is when I can say that I began to fully feel my calling to the ministry.
From the sixth grade, I attended South Hillsborough Christian till a few months before my twelfth-grade year. I found myself, leaving the private Christian school to attend public school only to drop out. This was due to the destruction of my school transcripts. I left high school in March of 1986 at the age of 17. Leaving high school was heartbreaking yet I turned this heartbreak around into something positive. I start Bradenton Beauty Academy in April, after 1250 state required hours of training; I graduated with a certificate in cosmetology. I advanced my training with the enrollment at Roffler Hair Design Academy, after 500 required hours of training; I graduated with a certificate in barbering and in August of 1988, I received my state license as a master barber; a license I still currently hold. In 2004, I enrolled in Edutech Career Institute to peruse a certificate in massage therapy; I graduated with honors and received my national licenses as a massage and body worker in 2005, a license I hold today. I am proud to report that in 2002, I earned my GED from Jefferson High School in Tampa, Florida.
In September 2007, while on a trip with friends to Washington D.C., I met my husband, Donald Bowman Harris. Our marriage was held in Alberta, Canada on June 29, 2008, followed by our wedding held in Dahlonega, Georgia on August 30, 2008. Upon my marriage to Don, I became a step-father to a wonderful young lady, Miss. Elizabeth (Emma) Marie Harris.
2008 would be a year of new beginnings in my life. While it is the year I would marry, it is also the year that my run from ministry would come to an end. On June 22, 2008, at St Mark United Methodist Church, Reverend Phillip Thompson preached a sermon on Moses and his call to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt. It was during this sermon I knew I could not run any longer and I accepted my call from God to become a life of service and ministry. I started my journey toward ministry attending Lay Speaker classes through the United Methodist Church earning a certificate as a Lay Minister, a certificate which would allow me to preach throughout the North Georgia conference of Methodist churches. In August of 2009, I entered Atlanta Christian College; where in July of 2011 would change its name to Point University. In May of 2012 I successfully graduated Cum Laud with my Bachelors of Art in Biblical Studies and Preaching Ministry. I began Emory University Candler School of Theology in August of 2012 and successfully graduated in May of 2015 with my Masters of Divinity. I am now seeking ordination with the United Church of Christ.
In March of 2010, I was blessed to finally become a full member of the United Church of Christ. Since then my journey to ministry has been a pretty exciting one. The summer of 2010, I have had the privilege of being an alternate delegate to the Southeast Conference Annual meeting as well as attend the 28th Annual Synod in Tampa, Florida. It was here at Synod my love of the UCC was strengthened. I am so blessed to have found a home with a denomination that believes in social justice, not only in words but in actions.
Since 2010, I have attended General Synod in Long Beach and in Cleveland. I have attended a MID retreat at the Mother Church House in Cleveland. In my local church, Kirkwood UCC, my roles have been many. From student minister intern, VBS crafts leader, and the KUCC Dudes Group (which I started as a student intern). My roles in the Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ has grown as well. I currently serve on the Southeast UCC Nominating Committee, the Support and Nurturing Team of the Commission on Ministry for the SECUCC, and the Kirkwood UCC Delegate to SECUCC Annual Meeting.
Acceptance and loving our neighbor as Christ has called us to do are issues of the church that are tugging at my heart. It is time that we, the church, stop playing church and be the church. In this statement, I have found a renewed sense of call. Within the church (not just in the United Church of Christ) the issue of acceptance is now at the forefront of debate, such as in discussions around sexual orientation and a woman’s roles in ministry. While these are not issues within the United Church of Christ, other denominations are in heated debates to the point of splitting. This is not the church Christ has called us to be. We all, men and women, young and old, heterosexual or homosexual, skin colors of all shades, make up the body of Christ. It was the Apostle Paul who stated in Galatians 3:28 (as taken from The Message), “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous ‘descendant,’ heirs per the covenant promises.”
In understanding this, and in beginning the process of total acceptance, the church can full start to live the commandment Christ called us to, “Love God what all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.” We cannot be the true body of Christ with so much hatred and fighting. The focus needs to shift from who does what in the church, to simply doing what needs to be done to assure that everyone knows the love of God. The church should be a place where hunger is no more, poverty is no more, the death penalty is no more, and where brothers and sisters no matter what race, color, or sexual orientation stand hand in hand in love and harmony. This is the ministry I am called into.
Matthew 4:23 “Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in the Jewish meeting places and preaching the good news about God’s kingdom. He also healed every kind of disease and sickness.” This is the first of many scriptures found in the New Testament that give us insight on how important education is to the church. Many often view the sermon during worship as education or the “good news.” While this is true, it is not enough. Sermons are often if not always more on the side of a lecture. There is not research or prior preparation done by the congregation other than to show up. Offering weekly educational opportunities is a big need for any congregation.
One way that I feel many individuals are let down in this area is the lack topics or subjects in which to explore. Not everyone has the same interest or learning desires. Many churches offer weekly “bible studies” yet not everyone desires to study the same topic. Here is how education is weak and needs to be strengthened. The role of the minister is to teach; yet it does not stop here, because to teach is also to train. In most if not all congregations there are those members who would excel in leading educational groups in many topics to bring a wide variety of interest. As a pastor this would be one of the roles I would gladly welcome.
Another hindrance that I have found is that of location and time. While the desire is to meet and learn. Often daily life becomes the barrier. In all the scripture that has referred to Jesus as a teacher, often he is not sitting in the local synagogue. He taught in many different locations and times. This is the model that seems to work best. As a minister, I feel I am to bring many options that can work for the congregation I am to serve and make it as easy and available for everyone as possible.
During my time as an intern at Decatur UCC I began a weekly education group. We met at a local tavern for dinner, beverage of choice, and discussion. Over the summer of my internship we used the book, “Parables from the Backside” by Ellsworth Kalas. In this time of discussion, the group took a deeper look at the parables that Jesus taught from a different point of view. For example, in looking at the story of the Prodigal Son the focus is often on the son who left, then returned while the son who stayed is often over looked. Parables from the backside challenges us to look at the story from the son’s eyes who stayed and examine his thoughts and feelings. Leading this group was my first experience of offering and sharing in education with others. I would go as far as to say, I began to understand the need, interest, and importance of education. I found a deeper sense of my call to ministry during this time. I could move from a place of fear of my call to ministry to a new strength. What I mean by this is, when I first began to understand or deeply feel my call to ministry I often feared that I would say or tell individuals the wrong information. Now my new understating of the importance of education, both my own study then offering and inviting others to study with me opens the door for us all to live fully into the understanding of working out our own salvation.
Matthew 25: 35-40,
“’When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.’ Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, ‘When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?’ The king will answer, whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.’”
Over and over throughout my journey and accepting my call to ministry, this scripture has been my driving force. You may even say it is my theme or slogan statement. This passage speaks to me on several different ways of congregational care/pastoral care.
The passage starts off with a call to meet the physical needs of individuals. To meet them where they are in their time of physical need. Many in our world currently suffer from the lack of their physical needs being met. Over and over I hear the story of children in our local communities who, without the meals they receive at school, will go to be hungry. In a world where we are full of waste this situation is heart breaking. In the larger scheme of creation, we are called to be in community with one another. To be in community is to follow the words of Christ in how we are to love each other.
As congregational minister, I feel it is my calling to work in the community to help meet the needs of those around me. This is not simply the role of the minister rather it is the role of the entire congregation. In this parable, we see a few ways in which we are called to answer the call to help our brothers and sisters. I do not think that when Christ told this parable the message of this first line simply begins and ends with physical needs but it also taps into the spiritual needs as well. This world in which we live is broken, very broken and is starving for the loving word of God to feed hungry and thirsty souls. No matter who or what one may believe one things is common, the universal need of love and acceptance. Studies have shown that love is a powerful gift that we should share. Kindness can soften even the most hardened hearts. This starts with every individual no matter what race, economic class, gender, or sexual identification.
Each of us has this call to ministry placed on our lives. This hunger and thirst does not have to be filled within the walls of a church. This need can and has to be met where we are at any given moment. While meeting, the physical needs is an effective way to begin the process of meeting the spiritual needs, we are called to go beyond simply handing out food and water, we are also called to meet the needs of the lonely.
In the summer of 2014, I embarked on a journey that would profoundly change my understanding of pastoral care. I began my work as a chaplain intern at Grady Memorial Hospital located in Atlanta Georgia. Brief piece of information about Grady: Grady is a Level 1 Trauma hospital. The level of care requires one to stay alert and ready to face many different emotional situations. My love of the work at Grady lead me to pursue a year-long residency with Emory Spiritual Health. Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital was the site I was assigned to. My work here was in the Cardiac Critical Care Unit (CCU). Both my summer internship and my year residency opened my eyes to the spiritual needs of individual in crisis. My work on my unit was often more with the loved ones of an individual rather than with the patient. Throughout my time in my residency, I had the honor of helping individuals lovingly say their good byes to their loved ones.
On occasion, I was also the one they turned to seeking help in making difficult decisions regarding their loved ones. While I must confess, I entered this work only by the suggestion of my Psychiatric Review Committee. I am so humbled that I did. My life and ministry has forever changed. My reluctance in entering this work came from a place of not knowing what this ministry entailed. I began working in the medical field as a certified medical assistant in the early to mid 90’s. My work was on the HIV/AIDS unit at Memorial Hospital in Tampa Florida. I advanced my medical education in the 2003. I attended Concord Career Institute. I earned my degree and certification as a Certified Medical Assistant. My life and work since leaving high school has been in service of some sort to others. My love of people and my desire to help and serve is shown in all my career and training.
My understanding of this work was more in line with the medical side of healthcare and not the spiritual side. My thought was the while I was comfortable being in this environment this may confuse my understanding of the work/ministry I was to do. Never in my wildest understanding did I see the amazing blessing chaplaincy work would have in store for me. Yet God is still speaking to those of us that hear God’s voice in small subtle ways or suggestions.
My work as a chaplain has opened the door to a profound way of being in ministry. While I would not go as far as to say that I am an expert in the many ways of pastoral care, I can say that I am far better prepared than when I graduated from seminary. Yet I do feel that pastoral care is a continuous learning process. I pray that I never get to a point where I feel I have learned it all or mastered it all, as I will sadly be mistaken. Just like snowflakes, individuals bring their own every unique and different life issues to the table. While some may look or even present themselves the same as another, the individuals that present them will never be the same. Chaplaincy has opened my eyes and understanding to the joy or blessing it is to walk the end of life journey with individuals and their loved ones.
Death is not as scary to me as it once was. While it is not scary, that does not mean that it is not heart breaking. No matter if a family is prepared to say their final good byes or death comes suddenly, the loss is still often devastating. Heartbreak, loss, painful emotions, sickness, and death do not know religion, gender, financial status, or sexual identity. It simply is. It is a factor of life.
As a chaplain, I have had the amazing journey of learning and understanding how to walk and love on others so unlike myself; others who do not believe the same way that I believe and learn how to find the blessing in our differences; to find a way to meet the divine, no matter what the divine is and to hold each other with dignity and respect, to fully live into my full understanding that while for me the way to God is through Christ, this is not the only way to God/the Divine. God’s love and acceptance is so vast and so big it is beyond my simple human imagination. This is where I find my love of the UCC’s understanding: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcomed here.”
From the moment, we are born to the day of our death, we are all on life’s amazing journey. We are all called by God to walk this journey together in community. Hold each other in the amazing Imago Dei that every one of us were created in. This to me in my full understanding that provides the basis for how I am to offer congregational care/pastoral care to everyone, everyone, everyone. Thanks be to God. Amen.