Its Sunday morning here in Dallas and I’m nursing my sore back, and feet after my second week as a chaplain at Children’s Medical Center. I spent over 60 hours at the hospital this week, clocking in a couple of fifteen hour days, visited many patients, got to know staff, had the opportunity to share seven Godly Play stories with seven different patients, led a chapel service, got to know my colleagues in the Pastoral Care Department better, and somehow I’m still standing. Well actually I’m collapsed on the couch, but you know what I mean.
As I sipped my coffee this morning I found myself mostly reflecting on what some might call the art of pastoral hospitality. In 1 Timothy, Chapter 3 there is a list of requirements for a leader in any Christian community. It includes things like respectability, and the ability to teach. But among the things listed is hospitality. The word used here for “hospitality” comes from two different Greek words. The two words are “love,” and “strangers.” It means literally to “love strangers.” Hospitality is true Christian love toward other people, regardless of the person or of the circumstances.
The word hospital comes from the Latin hospes, signifying a stranger or foreigner, hence a guest. Another noun derived from this, hospitium came to signify hospitality, that is the relation between guest and shelterer, hospitality, friendliness, and hospitable reception. So what does this all look like at the hospital? In what ways was I able to practice pastoral hospitality this past week? It included several things that didn’t look much like the work of a chaplain:
- I was able to help a Mom get comfortable as she comforted her son – getting her some water, and retrieving her phone from her bag so she didn’t have to leave her son’s side.
- I came upon a woman who needed help getting out to her car.
- I helped an anxious Dad find his way to the emergency room to find his son.
- I brought a little boy to to the bathroom whose brother was being treated in the Emergency Room, and then fixed him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
- I found a Dad wandering the back halls near the Emergency Room looking for a vending machine. I didn’t know where a vending machine might be, but together we found it.
As I did all these rather mundane tasks, I was wearing my collar – a kind of symbol of my vocation. I wonder if that changed how people experienced these acts of pastoral hospitality?
One little girl I met told me she wanted to pray for “the sick, and the sad, and the Good Samaritans.” I pray I was one of those Good Samaritans for her and all the others I encounter at Children’s.