Post Author: Thandiwe Gobledale
The gray walls whisper goodbye to me as I walk through them for a last time, making my way down the long hallways to surgery. Or perhaps I am the one extending silent goodbyes to this space as I wrap up my final day of Clinical Pastoral Education at a hospital on Chicago’s south side. A final visit: I sanitize my hands before entering the patient waiting area for the surgical unit. I have never actually been back behind these glass doors; my work is done with patients still awake, conscious, afraid of what will happen behind those doors, putting their faith in God and in doctors that all will be well.
Ms. King lies on a stretcher, her gown low on her shoulders. “Ms. King,” I say softly, sidling up to her. “It’s good to see you. I stopped by your room and was told that you were up here for a procedure.” Ms. King meets my eyes and a smile plays at her lips. This is my third visit to Ms. King. The other two times, we have spoken little – I have sat with her, read to her from my Bible and a copy of this month’s Daily Bread, prayed with her. On my first visit, I tried to make conversation but had great difficulty understanding her responses. Feeling us both grow frustrated with my inability to understand, we’ve kept my visits simple ever since.
“I’d like to read to you again today, would that be alright?” Ms. King nods and mouths what might be a yes. I take her hand, clenched in a fist as it was the first time I visited with her, and hold it. I read the scripture, and when I finish, I simply stand quietly beside Ms. King, my hand around hers. “May I pray with you?”
A nurse approaches us ready to take Ms. King’s blood pressure. “Will you give us a moment?” I ask him. “I’d like to pray with Ms. King.”
“Oh, sure.” He steps away, allowing us some semblance of privacy in this wide-open waiting area. And so I pray with Ms. King, giving thanks for the time we’ve shared together, giving thanks for God’s presence with us, praying that the procedure she is about to undergo is smooth and without complication. I close with the Lord’s Prayer and Ms. King echoes my amen. Opening my eyes, I meet her gaze, and I smile. “God bless you, Ms. King. It has been such a gift to spend time with you.”
“Yes,” she nods. “God bless you.” Three simple words, and yet so clear in intention. “God bless you.”
Today, this last day at the hospital, marks exactly one full year of ministry blessings; it was this day last year that I began serving as a full-time ministry intern at a local church in North Carolina. This year, nine months as a congregational pastor and three months as a hospital chaplain, has reminded me of how profoundly blessing the work of ministry is. Sure, it is part of my role to be a conduit of God’s love and grace, peace and comfort, and as I am learning, also of God’s prophetic word. Part of this job, though, has been opening myself to receive the love, grace, peace, comfort, and challenge that others offer. Even as I bless Ms. King, so does she bless me. Of course, I cannot do this work in order to receive such blessing: sometimes it comes, sometimes it does not, but so often God’s gifting goes in multiple directions.
This was true for me in the nine months I spent in a local church as well. While I brought my enthusiasm, curiosity, love of liturgy and genuine care for the well-being of God’s people and world, the congregation welcomed me with space in which to explore who I am as a pastor, to explore my gifts and passions, to make mistakes, to live into what it means to be a part of God’s beloved community. And no, it was not a perfect church: it has its fair share of anxiety around change, its fair share of messy history, its fair share of growing pains. Yet its ministry to me was its openness not only to what it might give me but to what I might give it, this two-way movement of God’s blessing. During my time there, I preached regularly, led worship and presided over communion, presided at a funeral, planned and organized an ecumenical Longest Night Service, taught Sunday School, led a Lenten Series on spirituality, provided pastoral care to congregants. Sometimes I made mistakes, but this congregation embraced me in my humanity and invited forth my gifts.
God works in mysterious ways, blessing us as we bless others, teaching us as we open ourselves to learning, guiding us as we strive to discern God’s call. I have long looked forward to hospital chaplaincy, thinking that it would be a good vocational fit for me: someone who has at times expressed some ambivalence toward the Christian story and tradition, someone who values plurality in tradition and belief. But God works in mysterious ways. While I loved my work in the hospital, while CPE taught me a great deal about myself and who I am as a pastoral care-giver, I find that my passions and gifts come out most fully in the context of a local congregation. I am eager to do more Clinical Pastoral Education, but I will do so knowing that everything I learn and do in this program will better prepare me for my work as a congregational minister. I am coming to love the church, to be passionate about the ways in which church can live into our vision of the kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, the ways in which church can be a mediator in the multi-directional blessing of the Divine One who binds us all together.