One of the blessings of being a hospice chaplain is that I get to go to church. Pastors and many other church workers rarely, I’ve found, “go to church” in the way in which we use it colloquially. When I worked as an associate pastor in a large church, the loss of “going to church” was more painful and disturbing than I expected. I accepted the call to ministry with joy and a sense that this was an honest and sincere answer to prayer.
Once the veil parted and I became part of the scene behind the scene, I began to lose any old understanding of what church was. Church ceased to be worshipful or edifying and became work. Dissatisfaction with my job soon became dissatisfaction with church: not just my church but the whole institution. After my layoff (I may as well call it firing, for that’s what it was) from my church job I felt that I literally had to detoxify myself from the experience. My wife and I did eventually find church again, and have recovered most of what was lost during those difficult years. I can worship, feed and be fed, gather, grow and build.
A second blessing of my job is that I get to be a minister to people who, in many circumstances, lie outside the walls of any church institution. Those who are pulled away from their home church by medical necessity are often left out of the sight or reach of religious community. These folks often have been burned, just as I have, but the institutional church. They are usually surprised to find that a minister shares their experience!