One of the most sacred things I do as a pastor is be with people as they end their lives. Rarely am I there at the moment of death, but I am very often there within hours of someone moving from this world to the next. People often want to talk about the most interesting topics right before they die - how they met their spouse, whether or not they have regrets, how their families should act once they're gone, what their service preferences are, how the weather is, why they liked certain foods, why they never did certain things. Listening to people - deep listening - is probably the most important things I do. It's how I best understand chaplaincy - listening. Occasionally people ask questions, but more often than not those questions are not for me.
Today the New York Times has a very interesting article on hospice chaplaincy. The article was written in part because of a sharp rise in chaplain services since 2004, nearly doubling in this time period. However, the article's main focus is a change in what chaplaincy has become. What does that mean? More secular, less religious. To me it just looks like plain old chaplaincy.
This article raised some questions for me. What do the authors think traditional chaplaincy is? (It appears they see it as death bed conversions or long talks about God.) What has traditional chaplaincy been? (Are they correct?) And how long as this "new" chaplaincy been around? (It's all I was ever taught.)
Like the chaplains in the article, it's been my experience that when someone who is not a member of the church I serve asks for a chaplain (me), then that person has at best a loose affiliation with religion. They aren't looking for orthodoxy or conversion. They are looking for confession, tenderness, companionship, and care. It is my job to help make the transition out of this world as painless and loving as possible. Perhaps I've only been trained in this "new" chaplaincy.
I encourage you to read about the rise in requests for chaplain visits and about a "new" kind of chaplaincy taking place in hospice care.
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