As part of my summer sabbatical, I joined the St. Mary’s Hospital Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program and was placed at Nazareth Hospital in northeast Philadelphia. It’s a Catholic hospital in a diverse part of the city. Each week, for 11 weeks, I spent 14 hours in classroom education and 24 hours walking the floors of the hospital, discerning whom to visit on my shift. Over the summer, I visited approximately 300 patients.
I worked in the Emergency Room, Intensive Care, and General Surgery floors regularly. About 25% of the patients were Spanish-speaking, 10% Jewish, and 10% Muslim. Staff and patients were from around the world, each with their unique stories.
Every day was full of complicated stories. I saw people struggling with addictions, strokes, end-of-life issues, suicide attempts, and behavioral health concerns. It was invigorating and exhausting to attempt to provide spiritual care to this wide variety of people.
I re-learned some basic things about ministry and my own sense of call to service and leadership. I was reminded that the love of people is essential to our work. I encountered the mystery of God’s power in words, touch, and silence. I saw again the importance of understanding and being understood when working with a limited knowledge of languages — the frustration of Babel and the power of Pentecost.
I was reminded of the generosity of people who serve in healthcare, human services, and education. I was often frustrated with the inadequacies of our systems to respond to patient needs. I saw the challenge to maintain meaningful wages for staff. I felt the struggle to communicate compassion and care behind a surgical mask.
I was reminded that I often could not have meaningful conversations with patients if basic needs like food, water, temperature, and pain were not addressed. I was surprised how intimate conversations could emerge if I helped people feel safe and valued, even for a few minutes. I learned the power of paying attention, of stumbling to speak another person’s language, of trying to understand other religious perspectives.
I learned the importance of just showing up, making cold calls, admitting when I made mistakes, and of taking breaks. I appreciated the care of staff in the cafeteria, staff who cleaned the rooms, nurses who felt their work was a calling, and doctors who went above and beyond to try to provide adaptive care for patients with complex situations.
I return from sabbatical grateful for this break, for the opportunity to peer into another kind of ministry space, for the 300 people I visited, and for the staff who welcomed a Spanish-speaking, Slavic-background, Mennonite minister into their midst.
I’m grateful to our Mosaic board and my Mosaic colleagues for making this sabbatical possible. I was able to be away with full confidence, particularly with Marta Castillo’s willingness to serve as Acting Executive Minister. It’s my first sabbatical in over 25 years of ministry. These three months allowed me to be reminded of my basic love of God and people that rooted my willingness to begin pastoral work back in 1996.
Coming back, I am reminded that we as Mosaic felt our own sense of call to be a diverse community, where uniqueness is welcomed and the broken and beautiful are acknowledged. I return, committed to my own sense of call to be kind, open, and centered. I come back to my Executive Minister work, knowing there is tough, hard, and holy work ahead. This work requires all our skills and gifts, and our mutual trust, to bring healing and hope to ourselves, our neighborhoods, and the world.