The reality of chaplain work is that there is death. Since I work at a Level 1 trauma hospital and the only one in the state, there is a lot of death. Last week during my on call I spoke to a man who was told that day that he is dying and given just a short time to live. Following that call I went to the room of a patient who had just died and sat with his spouse as they shared story after story about their loved one and their relationship. After being with that family for an hour, I received a new call to the emergency department for another death. I sat with that family and listened to the sibling wail and the in-law process their grief out loud. The next morning another one of my calls would die after life-saving surgery did not prevail. There is a lot of death at the hospital. And who is in the room when death comes knocking? The chaplain. We are there to listen and support and walk alongside you for a brief time as you process your grief and share about your loved one. It is a holy time, in a holy place. Thank the LORD I'm not without the Holy Spirit that guides me and them through it all.
It was one of those moments at the hospital when everything was happening all at once. This is actually not that abnormal. The On-Call Chaplain came to me and asked me to cover for her as she answered a different call. So I went...up to ICU...and had no idea what the situation was. As I walk down the appropriate hallway and toward the room I was told, I passed by two women visitors. I keep walking about 4 more rooms down, because there is where I see a circle of doctors and nurses waiting outside the room. Up strolls the chaplain and I'm told a bit about the story. Problem is, we are all wearing masks, the doctor is talking low (that reason to be shared soon) and my hearing is working overtime. But I catch enough. It's a motorcycle crash with no helmet and the patient has non surviving injuries. The staff already knows that there are many family members present and want to be mindful of those that want to say goodbye. The fellow who is sharing with me has tears in his eyes and I thought maybe his emotions was keeping his voice quiet and low. Maybe he didn't want the patient to hear him in the room. Maybe that was just hallway etiquette. But no, it is because the two women that I passed on the way to the room were two of the family members...the mother and her sister.
I thanked the dr. and began to walk down to the end of the hall to greet the women. Do they know he is dead? Have they seen him since he arrived? What will I say? What do you say to a mom who is about to lose her 24 yo son? I reach them and introduce myself. "Hello, I'm chaplain Mercer, I'm here to check in on you." They express their desire to see him and I share that I'm not sure he has made it up to his room yet, but that I would go check for her. Before I can make it back to the circle of medical staff the dr, the fellow, meets me and goes with me back to the family members. The patient has been in the room the whole time I have been there. The doctor explains the injuries and that her son is only alive through machine support and has non-survivable injuries. I escort the mom and older sister to the room. A mom reaching out to her son that cannot talk, cannot move, and due to his injury cannot be seen. His face is covered with surgery drapes. The mother in that moment is not for me to write about. That is too private and too holy to bring to words and to others who weren't in the room.
Soon the step-dad reaches the room. More emotions and more comfort given from family member to family member. I am silent watching the room, the patient, the mother, the older sister, the step-father, the nurses, the doctor. At one point the mother asked me to say a prayer over her son. I have been in ministry for over 26 years. I have no idea what to pray. I breathe, I come to the quiet. I calm my soul and I focus on God. I don't pray for healing. Not for a lack of faith, but out of pastoral care and concern. Healing has been taken off the table and while God can bring miracles to pass, to pray for that one at this moment is to set God up to be a villain when healing doesn't come. That's not a lack of faith, that's science. And God created science, so I know he's okay with it. I pray for comfort and peace to be on the family and for memories of the life lived to be joyous.
At this point the On Call Chaplain came to the room. Evidently we were actually going after the same patient. The two calls came in such quick succession it caused a bit of confusion. When she realized, she came to the room and we both became a presence for care, support, and the divine. More family needed to come to the room and say goodbye. Since Covid-19 protocols were still in place only 4 people could come at a time. I escorted the older sister down to the lobby and brought up the dad and grandmother.
For the next 30 minutes to an hour I would escort two down and two back up. The mom and the dad staying most of the time. The grandma would go down, the grandpa up. When I took the grandmother down and the step father, I brought up the grandfather and the patient's fiancée. The fiancée had the most emotion as she watched her lover in the bed, still and unresponsive, breathing only due to a machine. She cried, she wailed, she grieved. The patient's two younger sisters would come up. In the end when his death was pronounced, he was surrounded by his mom, his dad, his fiancée, and one of his younger sisters. The medical staff turned off the machines and left the room. The mom had asked me to say another prayer after the pronouncement. I said another prayer, much the same as the first one. I left the room as well and waited outside so that they could have some privacy. It was the final moment. As I was out in the hallway just waiting, housekeeping was next door and finishing up. I was completely prepared to ask them to wait because of this sensitive moment., but I didn't have to say anything. A nurse noticed and ran down the hallway and tipped off housekeeping so they would be considerate and not enter. It was another pastoral moment from the medical staff. After what seemed less than a sufficient amount of time I came back into the room. My mere presence signaled to the family it was time to go. They gathered the last of his and their belongings, said some goodbyes and I escorted them to the main lobby. When we reached the main lobby, the other 20 family members and friends embraced the loved ones. The mom hadn't quite made it there because she received a call from the hospital on the way down. Once she finally reached the lobby I told her that I was sorry for her loss and that the chaplains are always available and she could call any time. She thanked me and went to her family and I left for the seminar room. It was time to for them to grieve and mourn and it was time for me to process.
Most of the time I was silent. My head was churning with "What should I dos?" When I couldn't think of what to say or how to proceed, I chose to just remain silent and present. Not everyone wants a chatty chaplain. Not everyone wants a silent chaplain. Not everyone wants a chaplain period. But everyone needs the peace of God. Did I provide that? I'm not sure. Could I have done something differently and better? I'm not sure. When you stand in the gap as a symbol of faith, you won't be perfect. Nonetheless, though, God does his work!
This week was filled with some firsts and yet some firsts are still to come.
Sunday, August 21: Each new chaplain resident was asked to take a four hour shift with the Staff Chaplain during his On Call. I am one of the only that didn't have specific responsibilities at their church on Sunday Morning. So I took the 8am-Noon shift. There were only two calls that came in during that time and two was enough for me to feel that the experience was successful. One call was to the ED (Emergency Department...think ER). The other call was to PRI (Psychiatric Research Institute). Both were calls that I needed to see and made me more comfortable being a chaplain. It was great being able to shadow and learn some easy procedural things about being called out. I learned that I have a lot to learn and that I will need the year to grow in my pastoral skills.
Monday: This was a day of training and orientation. I finished all my modules for the hospital and the training for how we chart our visits for patients.
Tuesday through Thursday I had the opportunity to see patients in the afternoon. Each day in the morning we are having learning time (didactics) or group time (with our cohort).
Friday was a big call and needs its own post.
I didn't realize how hard it might be to get back to this blog to write about my experiences. Since this first week was really just orientation and onboarding, I thought I would just write about the entire week. Monday was my first day, but it didn't really feel like it. I got there at 8am as we were instructed. I met three other chaplain residents. The other two from our class dropped before we even started. A resident from the previous year decided to stay on, so at this point we have 5. After meeting these chaplain residents and some of the previous residents we realized that due to glitches in the UAMS system we couldn't do anything, so the director released us at 9:30am. That's right! Day 1 was only one and a half hours. After that we went the entire time. This week was filled with getting badges, logged in to our computers and touring the hospital. I also learned my floors. They are both ICU floors and talking with patients is a lot less likely in these rooms. Most of my work will be with family. At the end of week 1 we were invited to shadow a staff chaplain for Sunday's On Call. I took the 8am-Noon shift. That experience will come with my week 2 report.
As I start this new journey there are things even in my excitement that are unknown or are a concern for me. I thought for this post I would just put these out there so you can pray along with me.
Pray that my children will not have anxiety over such a change
Pray that Leah will not become overwhelmed as she takes on the bulk of the responsibility
Pray that this will benefit us financially
Pray that we will become closer knit due to this change
Pray that I enjoy the job more than I think I will
Pray that my health will hold out
Pray that the on call isn't too overwhelming
Pray that all the questions I have will be answered
Pray that I can be a blessing to the other chaplains
Pray that I can bless those in grief
Pray that I can give comfort to those who are anxious
Pray that I am ministered to as well
Pray that I don't get Covid or other infectious disease
Pray that my 45 year old body can take the work
Pray that I am protected
Pray that my commute is always safe
God be with you and with me! Thank you!!
I signed the agreement to become a chaplain resident in the middle of June. Leah and I let it sit with just us for a good number of weeks. We know who we had to tell. Our parents, our kids, and my boss.
The parents were easy. They support us, but what I do like this doesn't really affect their day to day. The kids was less easy. It changes how we do things. I'm the one who has taken them to school and picked them up from school practically their entire lives. Our daughter is at the same school as Leah, so that isn't an issue. The boys can bus to school and back and have before, so it will all work out. The bigger issue with the kids was the amount of time I will be available to them. It is a daily job and a commute, plus there will be the on call days when I won't even come home. I'm not sure about all of this, but my gut says there will be plenty of time to cuddle, play, talk, and enjoy one another.
My conversation with my broker was more concerning to me than the others. I had just started in May. It's now August. The machine is well-oiled and we work together extremely well. All of these things I was feeling, he would affirm in our conversation. It was a Monday. Two weeks before my start date. We needed to meet about other things...properties that needed attention. However, it wasn't until around noon when he came in that day due to meetings he had in the morning away from the office. In our meeting he made a comment about a future date and I had to come clean. I had wanted to weeks earlier, but I needed to wait. He reacted exactly as I thought he might. He was happy for me and sad that I was leaving. It was uncomfortable at times as he was trying to process it all. He is supportive, but we both know things were going well.
When you really want something, when you believe in it, you will do what it takes to achieve it, even if it means absorbing some pain along the way. This quote above from Theodore Roosevelt is right on the money.
I left full-time vocational church ministry in August 2018. I made the decision to resign and in that resignation, negotiated a severance to be paid until the end of October. I started real estate in August, taught VIPKid (teaching Chinese children English), interim preaching at a small Christian Church in Searcy, AR, and substitute teaching. Those jobs and more paid the bills that needed to be paid. Later I would try end of life mortgage insurance, working with our property management team, and then eventually join a team within our company. In September of 2020 I found Standing Stone Ministry. It was a fresh wind that blew through my soul. I was now able to minister in a powerful way to other ministers who feel burned out or are needing genuine encouragement. In order to do this ministry I have had to raise my own funds. I think I've done pretty well with the fund raising and could do more. In the 2021-22 school year I was given a unique opportunity to sub for the same teacher every Wednesday for the school year. Along with that I was able to sub for her and other teachers, but all at just one school. I got to know the teachers well and those 5th grade students well. I was on a real estate team within my company, subbing, and doing Standing Stone this past spring.
Several things happened at once. I cannot remember the exact dates, but it was in April...the beginning of April. I have been on job posting sites since 2018. I actually thought that I would be able to grab a lucrative job in the corporate world following my ministry career. I have the skills and experience, but church experience doesn't quite compute to other industries. Therefore after one 200 applications for various jobs I never received an interview. It is a bit discouraging. Yet, my hope is in the Lord so I persevered. Back to the story. I was on zip recruiter, indeed, LinkedIn, and other smaller ones. I'm not sure which one popped but two opportunities caught my eye. The first was a real estate job in town with a different company that was to be a property manager. The second was to be a chaplain resident at a hospital. Since my utter failure to receive an interview has destroyed my confidence, I simply thought on these before pursuing. Finally I reached out to the broker about the property management and we met for an interview at a local coffee shop. At the same time I sent in an application for the chaplain residency. The coffee shop talk was on a Friday and the following week my broker scheduled a meeting with me for that Friday. He offered me a position at our company to be the office administrator. Now, here I am in April of 2022 with 3 different possibilities. What do you do? Leah and I talked and decided that I go for all of it. ALL OF IT!!! So I did. The other company never called me back. One down, two to go. My broker offered me the position, I negotiated a higher hourly wage, and he said yes. My start date was May 9, 2022. There was two to three weeks before my start. Then came the email from the chaplain residency program scheduling an interview with me for that position. As luck would have it, it was May 11, 2022.
I start with my brokerage on May 9 and two days later I make the trek to Little Rock to interview. The interview went well. I really connected to these chaplains and the position. It would be a month before I would know anything they told me. So I kept moving on with life. I kept doing what I knew, rather than what might be. I must stop here and say something about these three opportunities. With all 3 my biggest concern was my Standing Stone Ministry. Standing Stone is my future. It is my heart. The first opportunity with the other real estate company could have been so time consuming, I'm not sure my ministry would've survived. I don't really know that because I never mentioned my ministry. I felt guarded at the interview and decided that if I take this position, I'll need to keep this ministry private. That was a red flag right there. When I met with my own broker about being his office administrator I was open about my ministry and that I would continue meeting with pastors and my support team while I worked there. He was extremely supportive. When I interviewed for the chaplain residency, we talked about my ministry. They were extremely supportive and even offered that what I could learn there could enhance my ministry with pastors. Back to the story.
Right around 1 month after my interview I received an email from the chaplaincy. I was offered a resident position. At the time the email came I was in Texas on a mission trip as a sponsor for the trip with my boys. I was talking to Leah daily during the trip, but didn't want to spring it on her with a phone call. My excitement was riding high and told her anyway. We came back from the mission trip and a few days later we left for our family vacation. Leah and I were on vacation and talking about it. She was surprised I hadn't already signed the agreement. I said I wanted for us to talk and really make the decision. Even though we had been talking since April, it was theoretical until early June. On vacation I signed the agreement through my phone (Leah taught me how) and the stake was in the ground.
This past Monday and Tuesday I began receiving onboarding information for my Monday start date. Here we go! It will be a journey. I'm thankful that you are on it with me.
It is finally time to share what is new with me! On Monday, August 15, 2022 I will start a new position as Chaplain Resident for UAMS in Little Rock, AR. UAMS is the only level 1 trauma hospital in Arkansas. The program takes on 6 resident chaplains from August through the next August teaching them how to be a chaplain as the resident earns all 4 units of CPE to be a certified chaplain. It is a great opportunity and I'm excited to start on Monday. There is so much more to say about how God has worked in all of this, but for now the announcement is simple.
I will say that I will continue to shepherd pastors through Standing Stone Ministry. I will still have my real estate license, however, my work in real estate will be extremely limited.
The logistics are as such: I will be commuting to Little Rock Monday through Friday. My work begins at 8am and ends by 4:30pm. The morning is for education and the afternoon is for visiting patients. There will be an on-call once a week where I will spend the night in the hospital for emergencies. I will be rising early, but be home for dinner and family time. It is a paid position and offers benefits as well. This was not decided upon lightly. Leah and I have been in great prayer and are hopeful for this year and the future. Our three children know and are supportive. I just told my broker two Mondays ago and while he is sad I'm leaving as office administrator, he knows that God has called me to this.
I would appreciate your prayers if you stumble upon this blog. I will be thrusted into very intense moments in people's lives and God might be all they have at the time.
I learned in my first ministry position that living in the past can be detrimental to your health and spiritual life. There was an elderly lady at the congregation where I worked who was in bad physical health and walked with a walker, yet loved to talk. However, once you listened to her stories you quickly realized that all of them were from the past. Years had gone by and these stories were all she had. She didn't speak of the future and the present was filled with complaints of new ailments. She was lonely and yet she was sweet. I felt for her and usually gave my time to listen to what she had to say. I remember the preacher saying to me one day, "She needs to stop living in the past and we need to help her start living for today and the future." It seemed insensitive to me at the time and yet profound. I hadn't until that moment realized that all of her stories were about the past. And with this new perspective I listened with sensitivity, asked a few questions about the future, but in the end we were always in the past.
I learned in my last years of ministry that the past should not be forgotten. When crisis came (and it came often at this particular congregation), I found it interesting how the past was only seen through nostalgic lenses. They could remember robust numbers, money in the bank, and their personal small group making memories. However, they failed to tell the stories of preachers being fired, youth ministers being fired, college ministries being halted, a split that took half the church, moral failures on the part of members and leaders, elders becoming recluse, power struggles, and an overall distaste to really engage the community. They would cry out for 17 years ago and to return to those glory days, not realizing that it was in that same time period when half the church left over a plethora of issues and it being mishandled by the elders and leaders. Because the past was always cherry picked the mistakes made, continued to be made.
So somewhere there is balance. We cannot live in the past or we cannot grasp the present and the future becomes a scary unknown. We cannot forget the past or we continue to make the same mistakes and forget the God who led us through it all. There is a balance and finding it is a continual pursuit.
While there is something coming in m future, I cannot help but be mindful and hopefully honest about my past. So here is the past: I went to ACU for my undergrad and graduated with a Bible degree and youth ministry specialty. I worked while in college as a year-round, full-time youth intern. I started my first youth ministry position a few weeks after college graduation and was there for six years exactly. I began my second youth ministry position directly following that work and served there for six years and three months. Then I began a senior minister position and was there for six years and six months. I was an interim preacher following that position for 8 months. Alongside being an interim preacher I also began real estate and next week will be 4 years and counting. Two years ago in September I joined a ministry where I shepherd pastors.
That is the past with a bit of present sprinkled in. Stay tuned for what the future will be.
There is something new coming my way soon. I can't let it out of the bag just yet, but it will be a bit of a change from where I am right now. I'm praying about it every minute it seems. It involves calling, nerves, changes, and I keep looking up to God for how it might all turn out. I'm posting here. It's been two years since I've written a blog post. No one really reads blogs much anymore and the time it took to write them is just not in my time bank. However, I'm taking this quick minute to update myself and post this because I hope to track the changes and use this more as a personal journal than simply a public one. If someone happens to run across the posts, then fine. If something occurs and I think it deserves a wider audience, then I'll share it via social media. My prayer is that what is to come will be more than just a one-time or seasonal change and rather a life-changer that will benefit me, my family, and the kingdom of God. I guess we will see...
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