Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Job Hunting, or...

...what's the deal, anyway?

So, I've referred several times to the fact that I'm an ex-hospice chaplain, or looking for work. Several people have private messaged me for info, since I've never gotten around to clarifying that. So I'm going to steal from myself again, and stuff I've written people off-blog, to give you at least a short version of the story.

I'm doing this for a few reasons:
1) to update you, as there are still lots of my friends that I've not mentioned this too, in any depth.
2) To ask for your prayers - and to give you enough information for you to pray with some specificity.
3) Since I've written most of this in emails to others, putting it here saves me time and coming up with another blog post. :) It's an economy of effort thing.
Update 4) Apparently I'm doing some processing, too - all the stuff about seminary and CPE was added as I was editing the post. That stuff's more for me than you. Bunch of voyeurs. ;)

Anyway...I've been working for several years now as a hospice chaplain. My sense has always been that this probably wasn't permanent. When I graduated from seminary a little over 5 years ago, I had some personal and denominational issues to work through, and also felt pretty ill-equipped, in some ways, for ministry. There was only one 3-hour pastoral counseling course, for example, and it had no practical component. Most of my seminary training seemed to have little to do with actual ministry to hurting people or a troubled world, honestly.

So I didn't want to look for a church yet. I was mad at seminary, mad at Baptist life in general, mad at me and mad at God, depending on the day of the week and the hour of the day. I didn't think I'd be good for a church staff, at that point - or that church work would be good for me, seeing as I was mad at churches and churchy people. ;)

So I decided to enroll in CPE training - Clinical Pastoral Education. This is the training for chaplains, and it involves having a supervisory chaplain critique and monitor you and help you learn to monitor and critique yourself, alongside a group of peers. That's a really shorthand description - but it's a model of learning where you act, reflect on your actions (alone, with your supervisor, and with your peer group - "why'd you do that? Why didn't you do this? What were you really thinking as you did this? What's really going on here?" - the latter being my favorite rote CPE question!), and then act again - hopefully with greater insight, expertise, sensitivity, courage, etc. That kind of action/reflection model really appeals to me. Plus, the chance to do that in the context of ministering within a hospital seemed a great response to the divorced-from-real-life-and-real-hurts complaint that I had with seminary. (Others didn't feel that, by the way - I acknowledge that a big part of the problem during my seminary years was with me - hence, the anger at myself as well as at seminary/the church/God.)

This is turning into the long version of my job-situation. Oops. Well, if you know me or you've read previous entries, I daresay you're not really surprised...

Anyway, cutting of the retrospective - I worked in the hospital as a chaplain and CPE student for 15 months - a summer internship and a year of residency. It was a great experience and helped me grow in all kinds of ways. (I'm trying to be briefer - hence, vaguer.) By the time it finished up, I felt ready and even eager to look for work on a church staff. I also felt much clearer than I ever had in seminary about the kinds of jobs I was interested. In particular I was much more sanguine about serving in a "pastoral" role, whereas before I'd always preferred to use terms that, for me, were less loaded - "ministry" or "minister" as opposed to pastoring or pastor.

I'm not great at this shorter/less introspective/just the facts stuff, had you noticed? I thought you had.

So, it's my last week at the hospital, I've been job-hunting for a couple of weeks - and in the space of 24 hours, I get three calls from three unconnected people telling me about a job.

But it's not a church job, it's as a chaplain. A hospice chaplain, in fact.

Well, the hospice opportunity intrigued me a bit, and I decided I'd pay attention to the three providential phone calls. I'd had the opportunity to serve in several different areas within the hospital during CPE - in oncology, ICU, general surgical, pediatrics, Trauma, all kinds of stuff. But I kept requesting a placement in hospice and kept getting denied it.

The main reason for this - as far as I know, anyway, was for continuity. ("As far as I know" - CPE centers are big on you knowing and expressing your motivations, while at the same time hiding their own. It builds character or something. Plus, they like for you to reflect on what you want - and then give you something else, so you can reflect on the disappointment and learn to be open to the unexpected, and stuff like that. They're very intentional and occasionally sadistic about it. Really. It's great training - and great fun, if you're twisted like me - but it's not for the faint of heart.) Hospice patients and families need some continuity, with so much of their lives in turmoil, and they don't need to be afflicted with a new chaplain every 3 months if that can be helped. Ironically, that was my very reason for wanting to serve in hospice. I was constantly frustrated in the hospital with having 100+ new patients each day, many of whom would be gone a day or two later - relationships had to begin and end very quickly. As much as I enjoyed being at the hospital, I desired the chance to form on-going pastoral relationships with folks, and felt like hospice was the best place to do that, within healthcare. It still wouldn't compare to parish/local church ministry or even campus ministry (my other great and, at the time, latent interest). But it was the area within healthcare chaplaincy that most appealed to me - in theory. So I kept asking for a practical stint within hospice to check that perception out and see if I should pursue it.

Didn't get that opportunity during CPE, but now here I was being offered a full-time job in hospice. I took it, and stayed there ever since. Sort of. I didn't leave, but the company left me a couple of times, and changed names once (so far) as it changed management. Local management changed 8 times, depending how you count it, in 3 years.

The company was having lots of power struggles on upper corporate levels. Lots of people were laid off right and left - the other chaplain that started with me was laid off 7 weeks later, for example. So it felt unstable from the start. Lots of other people quit over the next couple of years. The local office had 35 staff (roughly) when I started; after a year, all but 5 of them (roughly, and counting myself) had been replaced. After a year, I was one of the most senior employees left!

It was a really unstable situation in a lot of ways. The ministry aspect of it was great, and you got to see God working in people's lives just about every day. The corporate aspect was not great, and was a constant distraction from the work.

But my sense was that it was where God wanted me to be for the time-being, that there was a lot for me to learn from it. As in CPE, it allowed me to develop pastoral care skills - practical & theoretical - far beyond what I'd gotten in seminary. I was immersed in the real needs of real people - the stuff I felt so isolated from in seminary. You could pay attention to the corporate stuff, and constantly be listening for rumors and putting out your resume - or you could focus on the work. That's what I did for the next 3 years.

Chaplaincy also gave me the chance to meet people I probably wouldn't have in a typical church, and put me in relationship with people from a variety of backgrounds, faiths, and ethnicities. It helped me to grow a lot. Moreover, it enabled me to be involved on a volunteer basis in other ministry opportunities, through my church and, this last year, through the Cooperative Student Fellowship at USC Columbia. That's allowed me lots of different outlets for ministry - pastoral care through hospice, music and education through my church, spiritual formation and just plain fun through the college group. Any time over the last few years that I've thought about leaving my hospice job - and that's been a number of times, with so much staff turnover! - I've had the clear direction that I was in the place I needed to be - not only with hospice, but with my church and with the CSF. (When I say that chaplaincy enabled me to do these other things - I mean that if I'd had to look for work at a church, I wouldn't have been able to be a church member at Emmanuel. The community at Emmanuel has been really good for me - it's been a time of healing, trying new things in a safe and supportive community, learning to love the church again.)

But that time is drawing to a close, from what I can tell. The week before Christmas, I was laid off from my job with hospice. Technically I'm still on-staff; they like me and have kept me on, theoretically, on a 'prn' or as-needed basis. But they were making cutbacks, relating to a buy-out. (That's the second time the company's been bought in a two year period - our last buy-out was in June 2006. I got an eventual promotion out of that one.) Whatever, the fact remains that since Dec. 26 I've not had any paid work from them, nor does that seem likely to change.

I've spent a lot of time in prayer and discernment over the last two months. Over and over again, I hear God telling me "everything must change" - that it's time for me to step out into a new phase of life and ministry. At this point, even if my old job and hours were offered to me again, I would have to decline to go back to work for them - or probably any hospice, except on a part-time basis. More and more, over the last couple of years and especially the last couple of months, I feel myself drawn (back) toward pastoral, congregational ministry. This is difficult to explain to folks who try to be helpful by telling me about job openings in chaplaincy - I might work that way bi-vocationally, if I had to, to allow me to work on staff with a church - but otherwise, I think that ship has sailed. That's not a reaction to bad stuff with chaplaincy - despite my disdain for corporate life, church work has its issues too, and then some. It's more my sense that chaplaincy was a stop for me, to learn more of what I needed to learn, but that ultimately my calling is to pastoral work in the church, helping God's people to grow into their roles as the hands, feet, and voice of Christ in the world.

Pastoral care is part of that - but so is education and discipleship, worship...all the things that the church does. And I want to minister in and through the Body of Christ, in the name of Christ - not in the name and under the authority of a business conglomerate.

I could go in a lot of directions from here - long-term, I feel some drawing toward pastoring, maybe even some kind of urban church-planting with a lot of community involvement. But in the short and medium term (3-5 years?) I'd love to find a church staff position as an associate pastor, with some combination of responsibility for spiritual formation/discipleship, pastoral care, and worship...as I say, I could go in a lot of directions and I'm trying to be open to possibilities. I've loved where I've been the last few years, and I'm still in love with both my church and the college ministry. But neither pays the bills!

(That's not the real issue, of course. Chaplaincy paid the bills pretty nicely. And it allowed me to do real ministry with real people. And I don't know what the future holds. But for now, I think it holds something different. "Everything must change" is the word I hear. I'm excited...and a little nervous, too...but excited to see what that means.)

So that's my current situation in a nutshell. As I say, I'd appreciate your prayers. Grace and peace.

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