Thursday, September 15, 2005

My First Day at the Hospital

I just completed my first day at the hospital. My peer group will be interesting. We are from all over the world, from the Middle East, Korea, Canada, and the U.S. I am, to my surprise, the youngest in the group, by a number of years. We are all Christians: one United Methodist, myself an Anglican/Episcopalian, and three (count 'em, three) Presbyterians.

One of my own small struggles has been what to wear, not out of vanity, but out of identity. As a priest, when I am acting in that capacity, I wear a collar. Up until now that means once a week, on Sundays. There are few priests out here, at least among Episcopalians, who wear the collar on a weekday. That has been my practice as well.

But in the hospital, I will be a chaplain. It makes sense to dress like the priest that I am. But I am on the West Coast. Will this visible churchy dress close more doors than it opens?

I spoke to my supervisor at the end of the day today, and we talked over the pros and cons of the clerical collar. Cons: some people may close up if they have bad memories about the religion of their childhood, a common affliction here in California. People may also think I am a Roman Catholic priest, and this may be confusing. Pros: I will be easily identifiable as a chaplain and as an ordained minister.

But to me, of greatest interest is how people react to me in a visceral sense if I wear the collar. I will visually represent, in one person, both holiness and physical affliction. What will that conjunction mean to a patient in the hospital?

What we decided together was that I try both, alternating, and see how it goes.

I'll let you know.



Blogger Mother Sarah said...

Preston: I predict this combo-identity you describe will attract attention not easily dismissed by someone's past "bad experience" with clergy. I will be waiting to hear what happens!

Thursday, September 15, 2005 10:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It can go either way, I know. But I've found since I started wearing a collar (ordained to the transitional diaconate in June) that I've conversations that I woulnd't have had if I wasn't wearing it.

But I'm female, and for some the novelty (and yes it still is for some) of a woman in clericals provokes conversation.

When I did CPE one of my (female) Jewish colleagues tried wearing a kippah part of the time, and then not wearing it to see if it changed the way she was perceived. It did, but mostly it depended on individuals--so it is hard to generalize the effect.

I'll be curious to see how it goes.

Friday, September 16, 2005 4:01:00 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Interesting. I've been playing the identity game too. Now that I'm a director of the arts school as well as a teacher, I've been trying the business wear (heels! haha) while I'm in the office and changing into my lulu lemons for the evening. It definitely made a difference, especially because I look younger than I am anyway. I'm getting tired of bringing the change of clothes... and I feel a bit like I'm playing a role in a play called life... keep us posted!

Completely unrelated... did you know Brittany Spears named her baby Preston! haha

Friday, September 16, 2005 5:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my CPE group this summer, we had a Dominican brother who wore his habit each day. Some peers realized that the entire hospital knew who Brother John was, and that nobody knew their name. He actually found that the habit kept him a "safe" person . The female nurses could flirt with him with no expectations of a closer relationship. I know the collar won't do that for you! Others of us were jealous that he had a uniform and didn't have to decide what to wear each day! I say, go for the collar.

Friday, September 16, 2005 8:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had some related thoughts myself, and I think I've decided to wear my kippah while in the hospital. I don't wear one every day, and don't know whether I will ever take on that discipline, but I do wear it when I'm in the synagogue or officiating at lifecycle events -- when I'm actively and intentionally working in the service of God, you might say, and surely CPE falls under that rubric too!

It's not the same as a clerical collar, inasmuch as non-clerical Jews wear kippot too -- but it's the best way I can find to mark my religious identity, which seems important. I'm slightly wary of alienating non-Jewish patients, but the part-time Jewish chaplain at AMC wears a kippah and says that hasn't been a problem for her, so I'm hoping it won't be for me, either.

And I can't help thinking there's real transformative power in the conjunction of holiness and physical affliction that you represent. I look forward to reading more.

Sunday, September 18, 2005 1:46:00 PM  
Blogger Wesley said...

I would vote against. In taking on a pastoral role in a hospital, you need to be approachable. Given that you are in your chair, it will already make some people uncomfortable arround you. I think the coller might be too much. Is there something else you could wear that wasn't so daunting?

Perhaps a WWJD T-Shirt ;-)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005 2:14:00 PM  
Blogger Wesley said...

One day I really need to learn how to spell.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005 2:15:00 PM  

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