Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More on the Clericals

I have been wearing my collar, in case anyone is wondering, and I am tempted to keep doing this. There are distinct disadvantages, I know. But it helps in a number of ways.

For one, I am immediately recognizable. Consider me in my environment: I'm a guy in a wheelchair in a hospital, and even in regular clothes, I must look a lot like a patient. But as I have grown into my new priesthood, I have begun to realize that in clericals I am seen first as priest, then as a person in a wheelchair. This has caused its own twists of perception, for me and the people around me. But in the hospital, if I can be perceived first as a religious professional, especially to the other health-care professionals, this will be to my benefit because I will be thought of as a chaplain in a chair rather than that guy in the chair who is also a chaplain. When I did my first unit of chaplaincy a couple of years ago, I had a hard time with staff remembering me as a chaplain, referring me to patients, and referring patients to me. I now wonder if this dynamic contributed to this problem.

The second advantage is that there is no bones about why I am in the room with a patient: I am there as a chaplain, as a religious person. This can go both ways, as some of you have pointed out. It might make me less approachable. But not yet. It has, instead, with folks who self-proclaim to be hostile to religion, made the starting terms of the discussion apparent. People immediately perceive my religious committments, and this has begun discussion rather than limited it. I think this might be because, in clericals and a chair, I present as such an enigma that inter-personal barriers fall due to simple curiosity.

All said, I have just started. Time will tell what is best. I hope to remember that each decision I make should be in the service of the patient, not my ego or some abstract sense of identity. If I can remember that I am first a servant, and second a priest, this will serve us all well.



Blogger Sam Charles Norton said...

Whilst I think there are some occasions for 'dressing down' I'm firmly on the side of keeping the collar on most of the time, for exactly the reasons you state. It provokes the most remarkable conversations. I once (when doing my curacy in London) met a friend in a central bar whilst still wearing my collar - that provoked lots of profound conversation. Good for you. I'm sure God will find lots of new ways to use you!

Thursday, September 22, 2005 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

My father in law wears his uniform (Salvation Army) all the time when he's at the hospital. He's proud of it to the point of annoying in my opinion. I think he hides behind it, playing a roll. Maybe it's a survival technique when your seeing such fragile moments of life and death.
I don't think you're like my father in law. Knowing you as I do, I'm guessing you'll do a great job of listening (so important, and you're so good at it) rather than having a pre picked piece of scripture to pull out of your back pocket and sounding "holier than thou". People will appreciate your quietness and calmness (even if your insides are a hurricane!)
What kind of cases are you seeing in these units?

Friday, September 23, 2005 4:22:00 AM  
Blogger Preston said...

Thanks for your encouragement, Ruth.

I am seeing a lot of "head stuff" - mental illness, brain injuries, people waiting for and getting various head operations. I am also seeing folks with spinal cord injuries. Also attempted suicides. On-call, like last night (I was at the hospital all evening and then back again after a 4am call) you see everything, from car accidents to people close to death, with families facing end-of-life decisions for loved ones on life support.

I've only been there a week, and as I read this list, I am almost overwhelmed. Pray for me! I thrive only when I remember that my strength is in the name of the Lord.

Friday, September 23, 2005 6:13:00 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Wow! I too am overwhelmed as I read your list! You are prayed for (nightly by Sam hehe :) ) And we will continue to do so! Miss you guys... Chris is over at the "Serenity Party" right now while I tend our stuffy nosed offspring!

Friday, September 23, 2005 6:45:00 PM  
Blogger Charlotte said...

I think in the hospital environment having the collar on makes excellent sense, for the reasons you state. It does cut out the "what are YOU doing here" issue ;-).

All blessings on your work!

Saturday, September 24, 2005 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Preston: I appreciated your comments. I have just started my first CPE unit at A Catholic Hospital - none of the Roman Catholic Priests where clerical collars. I am struggling with whether or not it would be the best thing to do (for the patients). I have apready had one experience where a patient was put off by my official identity badge and took me for a doctor or hospital official - the patient was far more at ease when I got through to him that I am a chaplain. I am to be ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada in a couple of weeks. The additional issue for me is will I be mistaken for a priest; and will that cause more need for explanations - or create the opportunity for a good conversation. Need to do some more praying about this.

Monday, October 03, 2005 3:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing me to this post and the other one in your comment. I have to admit I have been ambivalent about the idea of wearing clericals&madsh;lots of points for and lots against. ;-) But now I am feeling good about the idea. Though there are always the abuse stories, most priests I know who wear them really seem to put the collar on as part of a servant ministry and as a way to always be available to people. That is very heartening.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 9:54:00 AM  

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