Things People Say to Hospice Chaplains

April 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Chaplaincy, Hospice, Religion, Work 

So, I’ve been working as a home hospice chaplain for about 6 months.  I visit the homes of hospice patients and provide pastoral care to patients and families.  I find the work very rewarding and a fulfillment of the call from God that I perceive.

When I talk to people (friends, family, acquaintances, people from church, etc) I often get one of a small number of responses.  Here they are in no particular order, with my answer for each.

(A post for another day is “Things Patients and Families Say to Hospice Chaplains”)

It Must be So Hard

It is sometimes.  Let’s face it – I have a near 100% death rate for my patients.  By definition my hospice patients are not expected to get better.  And I’m working with people who are emotional about the death of their loved one (or patient, for caregivers and our staff) whether they express it or not.  It is certainly an emotional charged environment.

On the other hand, one of my important roles is to help the patient and family and staff make meaning from the illness and death of their loved one (or self).  Finding the personal meaning of the event is one key to integrating the event into your continuing life (yes, even for the patient).  I have to do that every time, with every patient.  And I have to do it for myself too.  I have to be able to find the meaning for me, for my place in the system that includes the patient, their family, their caregivers, their own clergy, our staff.  I have to have a sense of why I’m there and what it means for me.

Beyond the individual patient, I have to find a meaning for doing the work in the first place.  Why do I choose to visit a dying patient or four every day?  Why do I walk into a room with strong emotions, varying dramatically from person to person?  Why do I endure anger and grief and individual baggage that causes people to mistrust clergy?  What keeps me going?  Often the answer to this meta-question is the answer to the question for each patient for me.

The answer is that this is what God has called me to and equipped me for.  I’ve been working hard for the past 8-10 years to listen for God’s call on my life.  Over and over and over I have received affirmation that chaplaincy is my call, and that hospice work and end-of-life work is my particular specialty.  And God has given me what I need to do that work – personal emotional make-up, life history, skills and gifts, training and education.

I believe that God has called me to stand in the place of shepherd for the journey to death for some of God’s sheep, and for their fellow flock members.  It’s my place to listen to them, to hear the words they say and the words they do not say and the emotions that they feel, to let them know that what they are going through is real and usually a normal reaction to the final stage of life, to pray and read scripture sometimes to help people feel the presence of God.  It’s my place to care for these people, and for them to feel that care.  Sometimes it’s my place to serve as a stand-in for God or for others so that people can release the thoughts and feelings that have been stuck in their heart and soul.

The meaning that I take from this is that they are being cared for (if not by me by someone, and always by God).  They are being guided through a time that we will all experience – not directed but guided, in the hospice time and the death and the time after death and the grief that comes in each of those times.

In my core I feel a strong need and call to help people.  The primary reward that I get from this work is feeling that they are helped, by me or by someone else.

Don’t You Get Sad?

Yes.  I do.  Not with every patient, and sometimes there’s no obvious explanation for why I get sad with one patient and not with others.

With those patients who do not cause sadness for me, it’s usually because I feel a sense of joy.  Joy that they are grieving as expected.  Joy that they are not experiencing some of the dysfunctions that death can cause, or that they are receiving the help that they need.  Joy that the patient is NOT experiencing a painful, neglectful, or premature/delayed death.  In essence, I am sometimes not sad because the death is going well.

We as chaplains (and this is also true of clergy) are expected to feel some detachment from their flock.  We are expected to suppress our emotions about a situation in order to help others with theirs.  Our own questions about death and why it comes and why God permits certain things to happen to people – we are expected to deal with our stuff on our own time so that the patients, family, etc. can deal with their experience of these same issues.  My therapist once said to me that I have a strong ability to put my emotions on the shelf (we actually talked of Tupperware in a virtual refrigerator) and get through a situation and then deal with my emotions later.  That is true, and helpful.  It works that way for my theodicy too.

Sometimes I am sad.  It comes in two flavors.  One flavor is easy to understand – I come to feel some affection for my patients and their families.  They have a big loss and I have a smaller loss that goes with it.  I will mourn their death and their grief in my own time.  The second flavor is more complicated.  Sometimes a death just comes across as wrong.  Perhaps the patient is too young (someone under 60 is a good rule of thumb, and it increases in intensity as the patient is younger.  In my hospital residency, it happened with violent deaths.  It also happens with deaths where the family is unable to reconcile their conflicts long enough to get through the patient’s death, and to make that death as peaceful and painless as possible.  I remember one hospital patient who was estranged from his children for decades because of his abuse of them as children.  His family ultimately chose not to provide comfort care, leaving him as a “Full Code” with full resuscitation required, and then left the building not to return.  That certainly looked like an intentional infliction of pain.  And the one that shook me soundly after the fact was a hospital Emergency Room death of a two-month old child.  Nobody was to blame; it was a crib death.  But it’s hard to understand why that would happen.  In all of these cases, there was something wrong with the situation, something that could be fixed but wasn’t.

So yes, it does make me sad sometimes.  And please don’t take any lack of sorrow or even signs of being pleased as a lack of care for the patient.  In hospice circles there is a sometimes-spoken concept of a “good death”.  Those I celebrate rather than mourn.

I Don’t Think I Could Do It

You might be right.  There is a very unusual set of skills and attributes necessary to do this and do it well.  (Short version: chaplains are weird, hospice chaplains exceptionally so.)  Or maybe you could do it.  If you want to talk about chaplaincy careers or training let me know.  (And if it’s still early April 2016, and you want to do this in Ocean County NJ, my company has an opening.)

You might also be in that role in your own life.  We often hear stories of people who have capabilities that they did not know about until they were called on to use them.  You may be the person who reconciles people in your family or job, or you might be that middle-kid glue that holds the family together.

Chaplains aren’t hatched.  We aren’t born with special chaplain powers.  We develop them over time.  Our birth and formation do need to include and foster certain traits and attributes.  Chaplains do need some religious connection.  But beyond that we train.  Certification as a clinical chaplain in my organization (CPSP) requires at least two units of CPE and many go for the certification that requires four units.  Some certifications require a Masters degree in something relevant (the MDiv is used as the template).  That CPE training includes experience.  So no – we aren’t born doing this.

There is a real need to be able to keep your feet and your wits and your focus in the face of strong emotions – theirs or yours.  That can be learned too.  But beyond that, maybe you could do it.  Maybe you don’t want to, and that’s fine too.  We don’t need a world full of chaplains.  We just need enough of us.

I’m Glad That Someone Is Doing This

Thank you.

No, really.  This is one of those jobs where compliments come less often.  Where we often are unable to see the effects of our work in people because it only shows after we’re gone.  Where an angry family member or patient is actually expressing emotions rather than suppressing them and that’s a victory, but we’ll never hear a thank you.  Rejection is a constant.  Some people feel funny about their lack of church attendance, or never grew up with religion, or had a bad experience in the church or with clergy – those people tell us to go away, politely or not so politely.

I’m glad that someone is doing this too.  I’m going to need it someday.  Either for myself, or for my parents, or for someone else in my life.  And I will have to resist the temptation to fix my own family and myself.  Just as a lawyer should never represent themself, and a doctor should never self-diagnose, we should not self-chaplain.  We have to be able to feel what we are experiencing when the situation comes home, and we need other chaplains for that.

There are many guides in life.  Teachers, pastors, police officers, therapists, mentors.  Hospice chaplains are a specific kind of guide in a specific situation.  All are needed.

A Holy Moment

December 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Chaplaincy, Religion, Work 

This has been a long week at work.  In the past six work days, I have had four CMO patients.  CMO = Comfort Measures Only.  Other sites call this AND (Allow Natural Death) or DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) or just removal of life support.  The comfort care part is when the doctors order medication that causes the patient to fail to experience their death, and eases their pain and breathing.  I will not give further information on the individual cases because that would violate the law and hospital policies.

In each of these cases, things went rather well.  The family was in agreement on taking this step, owing to the irreversible and deteriorating condition of their patient – or at least the family was able to come to agreement without acrimony.  The staff worked flawlessly to make the process peaceful, smooth, and as painless as possible for patient and family.  The patients who were Catholic received the Anointing of the Sick (aka “Last Rites”) before the process started.  Things went as well as they can.

This is not to say that these events were painless.  The families grieved and showed a number of emotions including sadness and sometimes anger.  These deaths weighed on the medical staff as well, and on me.  As I said above, it was a long week for me.

But at the same time, these moments were holy.  I’ve been at this chaplain thing for a while and I’ve watched people die and families mourn.  Sometimes there are angry moments and fights with each other or the staff or even God.  But still, there’s that moment when the patient passes from alive to not alive.  From a living creature made by God to a person-shaped collection of dying cells.  This week I was able to see the last breaths of most of the patients.  Some were obvious.  Others were notable only in that there was not another breath that followed.  But I feel like the families and I were given a gift.

We talk about the joyous moment when a baby is birthed – the magic of bringing a new life into the world.  A new child of God is born.  In my Reformed tradition, we believe that for those who will someday join the church, that birth is the moment that God recognizes them as God’s own – a baptism is not necessary for that to happen.  And we will later baptize the baby (if Christian) and officially welcome him or her into the church, taking vows ourselves to care for that child’s spiritual life.

Death is the other end of that vow.  Death becomes the moment when we are relieved of the responsibility for the spiritual life of a person and God takes over completely.  We don’t exactly know what happens next, because we haven’t been there and we can’t know.  But we believe and know that God is present in that other holy moment.

Of course, we are still responsible for our baptismal vow to the family who are still here, and they are the focus of a chaplain’s work at the end of life for a non-communicative patient.  Their needs vary widely from simple acts (providing tissues, helping to guide them through the process) to help making meaning of the event for them.  And we give to them what they need, as best we can, being the face of Christ to them.

But what about those who are not Christian?  Aside from common decency, we do these services because everyone is a part of God’s creation.  We are responsible to care for God’s creation regardless of whether or not we agree with the beliefs of the person who is a part of it.  Also, as a Reformed chaplain, I believe that those who are chosen by God are not exclusively in the church or even believers at a given moment.  Calvin teaches us that some outside of the church are chosen, while some inside are not.  We need to assume that all are chosen, and treat them appropriately.

This job is a privilege sometimes (ok, oftentimes really) even though it’s tiring and emotionally stressful.  I believe that nothing is more holy and a greater privilege than to witness to the death of someone, and to support their family through that death.  I’m so glad that I have the chance to do this work for God.

Capital Health Systems Pastoral Care Newsletter, October 2014

September 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Chaplaincy, Religion, Uncategorized, Work 

Here is the October 2014 edition of the Capital Health Systems Pastoral Care Newsletter.  It mentions my arrival, and includes a reflection that I wrote.

Newsletter

 

For Everyone Born – a problematic hymn

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while.  I went to the first new PC(USA) hymnal launch event in Pennsylvania last fall, and I’ve heard this hymn sung MANY times – at Field Ed, at General Assembly, at Princeton Seminary many times in chapel, at the Worship and Music conference.  This hymn is quickly becoming a favorite of churches and seminaries.

It’s catchy.  It’s easy to sing.  It has a central message of unity, though it stumbles with some equality concepts.  The refrain is really pretty and mentions all sorts of good things.

But it has a problem.  Several problems really, but I’m going to concentrate on one.  This problem has been pointed out to me by several friends.

Recently I’ve been noticing a pattern among my friends – primarily my female friends and close relatives.  I’m becoming increasingly alarmed at how many have been abused – usually physically or sexually.  It’s not that far from the truth to say that all adult women that I know well enough to have heard such stories have experienced some form of sexual or physical abuse.  Or controlling behavior.  ALL of them.  Some more than once.  I’m alarmed, and trying to figure out what to do with the anger.

For these friends (and certainly others), verse 4 of For Everyone Born is a problem.  Here’s the verse:

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live,
(Copyright 1998, Hope Publishing)

At a first glance it seems pretty benign – that abuser and abused should be able to participate in the church and Eucharist equally.  We truly believe that.  It’s not really a problem.

But then you read it again.  And you notice that the injunctions are all against the abused.  The abused has a need to forgive.  (What does the abuser have to forgive?)  The abused is called to have a mindset of mercy.

And worst of all – the abused is expected to be at the same table as the abuser.  THIS is psychologically damaging for everybody that has talked to me about this.  The idea of sitting at a table, a Holy Table, with one’s abuser is painful.  It causes panic attacks.  It causes anger.  One friend felt a call to walk out of a service in the middle of the hymn (though she didn’t).  This verse of this hymn turns our sanctuaries from places of safety to places of danger.  Danger in the triggering of abuse victims, and danger in the very real implication of sharing space with their abuser.

This becomes even more insidious when the abuser is a family member or significant other.  People who have suffered abuse have it repeated again through family pressures.  Family members urge or even demand that they reconcile with their abuser (often without knowledge of the abuse) “for the good of the family.”  The abused person becomes the problem in that they split the family, rather than having the responsibility for the split properly lodged with the abuser.  Some people continue years later to have nightmares about the abuser and the abuse, and this demand in this hymn can bring up all of that again.

The refrain calls on us to create justice, compassion and peace:

and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!

I question whether any of these are possible when calling for abuser and abused to be in the same place.  The abused will not feel justice.  They will not feel compassion – they will feel the opposite.  They clearly will not feel peace, or joy.

I doubt that the hymn’s author intended to make this statement.  Still, the verse remains imbalanced.  Some call for repentance and reparation might balance it.  But perhaps it would be better just to leave it out.  When this hymn was sung as the Class Hymn at my Princeton Seminary graduation last May I chose not to sing this verse.  I almost sat down for the verse, but I was in a place where that would have been difficult and nobody would have understood what I was doing anyway.

So if you want to use this hymn, please consider skipping verse 4.  Or consider skipping the hymn entirely – there are other hymns that say the same thing without triggering the many (many more than you realize) victims of abuse.  Or at least know that you may have some work to do after it is sung.

Charge to the Candidate

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, I was moved from Inquirer to Candidate in the ordination process.  This moves me closer to ordination, sometime starting a year from now.  I am also pleased to announce that I will be serving as a Resident Chaplain at Capital Health System hospitals in Hopewell and Trenton, NJ from September 2014 to September 2015.

My Session Liaison, Gooitzen van der Wal (pronounced HOYT-zen), delivered the Charge to me.  It was lovely, and therefore I post it here:

I am Gooitzen van der Wal, Mark’s session liaison for the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville.

Mark, I have witnessed your growing sense of call to ministry starting from the time you joined our church in 2006. You quickly became active in our church, including work with our “Green Team,” with hospitality ministry, and youth ministry. When you came back from Montreat serving as a youth advisor you were so excited! You wanted to switch from your IT job to ministry in the church. Shortly after that you were laid off. You then became even more involved and served as president of the Board of Deacons, were our communion coordinator and our webmaster. But the biggest transformation we have seen in you is during your CPE Chaplaincy at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJH), bringing Gods love in serving the sick and terminally ill, and their families, and your ministry of almost two years at the Watchung Avenue Presbyterian Church (WAPC), where you further developed your skills in serving God by serving people in that congregation. You built strong connections in pastoral care and helping others in that church develop the skills in pastoral care in that community.

I charge you, Mark Smith, to continue your personal sense of God’s call to the ministry of His people. This coming year you will bring your ministry in Chaplaincy at Capital Health. Bringing the Love of Christ through the pastoral care of the sick, terminally ill, and their families is where you feel your call the strongest.

I charge you to continue your pastoral care in small group settings as you demonstrated in our church, and at Watchung Avenue PC, ministering to people of all ages. I highly commend your open understanding and compassion for people with different ethnic and personal backgrounds.

I charge you to seek opportunities to preach, translating your faith in Christ and your understanding of the Word of God, to real world settings, as you have done so well at Watchung Avenue Pres Church.

I trust that you will continue to be involved in the Presbyterian Church as an organization. Your great respect and detailed knowledge of the Presbyterian polity is recognized and much appreciated.

We at PCOL are eager to support you in your growth path as a servant of Christ. We will prayerfully and faithfully continue our covenant relationship with your on your path to ordination.

Lastly, I want to commend your relationship with your wife Carolyn, the faith you share, and her dedication to support you in Gods ministry to His people.

 

A Lock

August 6, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Job Search, Life, Seminary, Work 

Masterlock PadlockI grew up in Tenafly, NJ.  We had one Middle School and one High School.  I attended both from the early to mid-1980’s.  Because it was a small town and most people went all the way through the school district, the middle and high school gym programs shared locker room locks.  At the start of 6th grade, you paid a $4 deposit and received a lock.  At the end of 12th grade, you could turn it in for your $4 back.  It had a key slot on the back so that the gym teachers could open them.  The picture on the left is similar, but the lock that I had was so old that the knob that you turned was silver metal.

I clearly wasn’t the first person to use this lock.  Let’s assume an age of 20 years – probably two people had used it before me for 7 years each.  Maybe three people.  This lock traveled with me throughout middle and high school.  Some summers it came with me to camp on my footlocker.  For some reason, I didn’t turn it in after graduation.  I know that I used it for storage over break in my dorm at Rutgers, and probably as a bike lock once or twice after graduating from college .  It has been sitting in a cabinet here at my house since Carolyn and I moved in, with a piece of paper – now yellowed – with the combination in my handwriting.  It probably hasn’t been used for 20 years.  And yet, it still works.

Yesterday, I bequeathed it to a friend.  We met in seminary and she’s one of my favorite people.  She’s moving far away for her first job after college and seminary.  The lock is attached to a moving pod that is following her in a week or so.  And so the lock, now in the hands of someone 20 years younger than me who wasn’t born the last time I opened it on my high school gym locker, continues to serve.  And I’m glad that a little piece of me goes with her to her new home.

Sermon – Outside the Bubble. April 28, 2013

May 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Princeton Seminary, Religion, Seminary, Sermons, Work 

This sermon was preached on April 28, 2013 by Ann Elyse Hicks and Mark Smith (seminary interns) at Watchung Avenue Presbyterian Church in North Plainfield, NJ.

Audio:  Sermon 2013-04-28 Acts 11 Ann Elyse Hicks and Mark Smith

New Testament Reading:  Acts 11:1-18

Ann Elyse:

Look, I understand why you would be upset. I understand why many of you are angry over what happened.  That’s why I’m here before you now. I do not want to preach or argue with you, but I do want you to hear my story; I want you to hear what happened to me in Joppa.

My story could have happened to any of us, really. It all started while I was praying. I had a vision, you see…

Mark:

Peter was one of the most important apostles.  He was the one Jesus called the rock on which the church would be built.  He was later named the first Pope.

He’d been going around, meeting with other early Christians.  He’d been performing his own miracles, healing and raising from the dead, right before this happened to him.  Now, those might have seemed fairly unusual to the average person, but to Peter they were his work – the same work that he’d seen Jesus do.

And now he’d had a vision, one that seemed strange even to him …

Ann Elyse:

I know! It sounds crazy; I know it sounds impossible. I know that you have doubts about the reality of my dream. Please, trust me a little longer. Keep listening to my story for a few more minutes. In this vision, there was a giant blanket lowered down from the sky until it rested right in front of me and on it rested every single type of animal … that I have never touched in my life. They were there, all the animals that I, that we avoided — there was pigs, lobsters, shrimp, a cobra.

And then, as if seeing all these animals was not enough to make me cringe, a voice, God’s voice, called to me, telling me to “Get up, kill, and eat.” I was revolted. I was horrified. How could God expect me to do something like this? What do you mean, what did I do? I told God no. I said that I would have nothing to do … with those unclean animals. I would keep to our traditions; they served our ancestors well, all the way back to Moses. Why should I suddenly abandon that, step outside the tradition, and try something new?

Mark:

Up until now, the apostles assumed that what had happened before Jesus died was the right thing to do.  That only Jews could be Christians.  That Christians had to keep the Jewish law, including such things as circumcision and following the rules about eating food.  It was even wrong for a Jew to associate with a Gentile in many cases.  Of course, we know that Jesus didn’t follow the rules, but then the apostles weren’t Jesus.

There were boundaries around that early Christianity.  And only Jews were able to practice it properly.  The early Christians had created a bubble around themselves, by their practices, by what they ate and how they ate it.

Sometimes we in the church can create bubbles around ourselves.  We can choose to keep things the way that they are, to keep doing things the way that we always have, because … “it’s comfortable.  It works for us.  It’s right.”  We may resist change because change is uncomfortable to us, or because we worry about what others might feel.  We might worry that a change will cause people to leave, without considering whether others stay away because of the way that we already are.

Ann Elyse:

Well, after I told God no, God responded to me. God said that all those animals on the blanket were clean, and that I must not consider them profane. This happened, this vision with the blanket from heaven happened, three times, and I can honestly say I never quite figured out what I was supposed to learn. In a way, it was God telling me that the traditions that I held dear were, in fact, harmful for the church. I could not understand it. I could not make sense of it at all.

Mark:

This was a big deal for Peter.  His dream overturned his core beliefs.  He was being told that the laws that he had learned as a child were wrong.  And not just wrong, but getting in the way of doing God’s will.  God told Peter that his creation was good, even though these parts of creation – the pigs and lobster and snakes – were things that Peter was taught were unclean and unacceptable.  God was telling Peter that he (and the rest of the Christians) needed to get out of the Jewish bubble and to talk with and eat with and spread the Word with Gentiles.

It’s hard to look at something or someone or a new idea and to fight down your fears or anxiety or assumptions.  I’d imagine that Shannan might have a hard time if she were told – by God, no less – that she needed to bless snakes on Blessing of the Pets Sunday.  It can be tough to take that risk, to make a change in the church or in the world, knowing that it could upset you, or upset someone else.  But then who are we excluding because we don’t make that change?  Are we keeping snake-lovers from the Gospel message, because we don’t like snakes?  What is the bubble here at Watchung Avenue?  Who is inside the bubble and who is outside the bubble?  Are we right about that?  And should there even be a bubble?

Ann Elyse:

While I was still praying, I was jolted back to the present by these three men shouting to me, waving their arms in greeting. They invited me to go to dinnere with them in Caesarea, and after my vision, well, I went. I felt called by the Holy Spirit to go, and not to comment on their differences. I mean, I went to dine with Gentiles, when I have never before even sat with them. I don’t know what I was thinking. I only knew that it was the right thing to do.

And the owner of the house where we went, Cornelius, he did not seem to know why I was there either. He had been convinced by the Spirit to invite me. Here we were, two strangers, united by our visions, by our call to dine together and learn together.

Mark:

Peter and the rest of the Apostles were very aware of the work of the Holy Spirit.  They had been given their gifts by the Spirit at Pentecost.  They were in turn giving the Spirit to others through the laying on of hands.  They felt the call of God through this working of the Spirit, and were quick to listen to it.

And so when Peter heard the call of the Spirit to go and visit the house of Cornelius, he went.  He went even though Cornelius was a Gentile and not a Jew.  This was against much of what he had been taught, because Jewish purity laws made interactions between Jews and Gentiles difficult – particularly the sharing of meals.

Peter would have been stressed about this.  He knows that it’s the right thing to do, and Peter tells us that he was told by the Spirit to go.  Perhaps it was something like the Spirit telling Shannan to go to the zoo, enter the snake’s cage, and eat a picnic meal.  When God tells you to do something you do it … but it can be hard.

Peter went outside of the bubble.  Cornelius went outside of his bubble, too.  It would have been very unusual for a Roman Centurion to invite a Christian to visit and eat together.

What would going outside of our bubble here mean?  What does going outside of your bubble mean to you?

Ann Elyse:

Well, after dinner, I started preaching a little bit. Y’all know how I can be.  Anyways, we were all sitting in Cornelius’s living room, and I was bringing a lovely message, when I remembered Jesus saying to us that John baptized with water but that he, Jesus, would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Do you remember that teaching?

And I realized, like a flash of lightning, that we were all baptized with the same Spirit. We had, each of us in that room, received that same gift—life in Christ. Where had my hesitation come from? How could I have ever thought that eating with Gentiles was bad, or that we could not learn from each other? How could I have ever resisted leaving my comfort zone when God called me to do exactly that? Who was I that I could hinder God?

Mark:

This was a historic moment.  Peter preached at the house, and the Holy Spirit descended on Cornelius and his family.  Gentiles.  Non-Jews.  The faith in Jesus had been taught to someone from outside of the Jewish bubble, and they accepted it and God accepted them.

For Peter, the bubble popped.  It was gone.  There was no longer Jew or Greek, no longer male or female.  Jews and Gentiles together shared the uniting faith in Christ.  And remember, we are those same Gentiles.

This was the big payoff.  The chance for the apostles to do what Jesus had commanded them before ascending into Heaven – that they would be his witnesses to not just Jerusalem, not just Israel, but to all the ends of the earth.

And we as their successors are called to do the same.  We are to preach the Gospel to all.  And so the question falls to us – what bubbles have we created?  Where does our hesitation come from?  Are we hindering God’s work?

Ann Elyse:

We have a chance to move beyond what we have known. When we accept new people into the faith, we are accepting their new ideas as well.  The gospel message of Jesus is eternal. But the way that we hear and experience this message changes as we grow in the Spirit, and as the church faces new challenges in each generation. We have God to guide us, always and forever, through each and every time of change.

Mark:

And so we Praise God for the gift of the Spirit

Ann Elyse:

What God has made clean, you must not call profane.

Mark:

Make disciples of all nations.

Ann Elyse:

Get outside the bubble.

Both:

Amen.

How I Saw It – my Testimony at the Worship in a New Key Service March 13, 2011

March 14, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Job Search, Religion, Work 

At my church, our alternative service is called Worship in a New Key.   One occasional element of this service is personal testimony by someone from the congregation about their own experience that is relevant to the scripture or sermon.  I was asked about a year ago to tell my wilderness journey story but the time didn’t feel right – my journey wasn’t far enough along.  I was asked again to speak this week, and it felt right. Below is the text and audio of my story.

Barren WildernessAudio: Mark_Smith_WINK_Testimony_2011-03-13

Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11

Today’s scripture talks about Jesus’ time in the wilderness.

Each of us at times ends up in the wilderness.  Sometimes we’re there for a short time, sometimes we’re there for a while.  We each have our own path into the wilderness, and we each have our own path out of the wilderness.

My wilderness time is recent.  Some of you know my story but for those who don’t, here’s a brief summary.  On August 12, 2008 – a few days after the mountaintop experience on the youth trip to Montreat – I was laid off from my job … suddenly and without any idea of what was coming.  For 18 months I searched for another Information Technology job with little luck in this difficult economy.  Throughout that time I periodically got a sense – louder every time – that I should be looking to attend seminary and go into ministry.  Ultimately that message got so loud that it was impossible to ignore and I will be starting my Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Seminary this fall.

But this story is about the wilderness.  And this particular wilderness was very hard.  Losing a job these days is like a quadruple edged sword.  In one shot you lose your income and your security, part of your circle of friends that you’ve seen every day, your 40+ hours a week purpose in life, and likely a huge chunk of your self-esteem. If you’re like I was, a lot of your sense of self is tied up in what you do and how you do it – and all at once you are told that that no longer desired.  Even when you’re told that it was an economic decision – for the good of the company, nothing personal – that sense of failure is there.

The first thing that I did was to start looking for a new job. I was offered outplacement services, and when you go to these outplacement services they teach you how to find a new job. And one of the first things they teach you is that finding a new job requires having and showing a good attitude. In other words, you have to hide the feelings that you’re feeling so intensely in order to make those feelings stop.  For some that might be possible – for me it was painful. I think the hardest part for me was the isolation and purposelessness – the change from being in a small cubicle but surrounded by neighbors and noise and conversation about work and other things, to being alone at home in a room in front of my computer for hours at a time doing what I felt was accomplishing nothing. …

I’m an Introvert, and even introverts need people contact from time to time.  The networking with strangers required by the job search was stressful for me, and on the flipside, the excessive time alone was also stressful.  One-to-one time with trusted friends was incredibly valuable to me.

Leigh [Leigh Stuckey, who gave the sermon before I spoke] spoke  about the character of the human Jesus – about faith and how God expects us to be.  With a few notable exceptions, I have most often experienced God through other people. In my wilderness time I was not alone.  There were times that I didn’t see it or didn’t believe it, but God was with me.  God was with me, often in the form of the people who surrounded me.  My wife, who was and continues to be incredibly patient and caring while I go through heavy emotional weather.  The staff of this church who took time to listen to me and encourage me – particularly Jill and Rich Richards.  My friends in the church.  The youth and advisors of the Sr. High group, who told me quietly that they were praying for me and how I inspired them throughout this journey.  Now I’m a heavy Twitter and Facebook and Internet user, and I found that my Twitter friends and Facebook friends far away and local were absolutely wonderful when they gave me advice, words of encouragement, face to face time, and occasionally something productive to do.  All of these people were the face of God to me, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes just by being themselves.  They let me be me, let me know that I was loved and valued, through a time when circumstance and rejection told me otherwise.

I’m almost out of the woods now.  I can see the path that I will take, and I can see the edge of the wilderness from here.  It’s been a difficult time and a growing time for me. I am ever so thankful that God let His presence show through the people around me, and I thank God for them.

Job Opening – Assoc. Pastor for Youth and Worship – Lawrenceville, NJ

March 3, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Job Search, Religion, Work, Young Adult, Youth 

My congregation has an opening for an Associate Pastor.  The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, NJ is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PC(USA)) and is part of the Presbytery of New Brunswick.  Information on our congregation can be found at the church website and the PC(USA) statistics page for the congregation.

DISCLAIMER – my role.  I am a Deacon among my roles at the church, and I served as the Chair of the Mission Study team which completed its work prior to the creation of the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee.  I do not serve on the APNC, but have been asked by them to help advertise the position.  I will be happy to answer what questions that I can via any communications method including in person.  The APNC requests that specific questions about the position be directed to them – specifically to Thomas as listed below.

Position Description

Associate Pastor for Youth, Young Adult and Worship Ministries

The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, NJ

CIF ID #04928.AEO

Contact: Thomas Emerick, APNC Chair: thomas744@mac.com

Fulltime Position, intended to begin September 2011
Reports to: Pastor, Head of Staff

Responsibilities include:

Youth and Young Adult:

  • Overseeing the administration and execution of programs offered to 6th to 12th graders, College students, other “college” age youth and young adults at The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, aimed at spiritual and faith development.
  • Supervising the Seminary Intern for Youth Ministry (10-15 hours per week/School Year)
  • Training, equipping, coordinating and encouraging lay leaders and parents is a primary means for providing ministry to and with youth
    • Conducting regular (up to bi-monthly) leadership meetings
    • Providing staff support for Youth Ministry Council
    • Facilitating youth participation in the leadership of the program
    • Providing programs that include parents in youth ministry
    • Teaching and equipping lay teachers to provide educational experiences for youth.
    • Working closely with a Session member liaison to youth ministry
  • Planning for, and coordinating the Confirmation experience for confirmation-age youth (currently 9th grade) and Mentors.
  • In coordination with Assistant Youth Ministry Director and Seminary Intern, coordinate and provide leadership for weekend retreats, outings and events
  • In coordination with Assistant Youth Ministry Director, plan and provide opportunities for mission experiences locally, regionally, nationally and internationally for all youth, which includes Summer Mission experiences.
  • Participating in the Presbytery Youth Connection
  • Providing consistent and clear communication and publicity about all activities.
  • Developing and utilizing computer technology (e.g. website, email, etc.) in the publicity and promotion of the youth program.

Worship – Worship in a New Key:

  • Work with Head of Staff and other staff on developing and planning for all aspects of WINK, including scheduling worship leaders, preachers, planning liturgy, etc.
  • Provide primary preaching and sacramental leadership for WINK, by preaching/presiding once per month (minimum), and coordinating a rotation of other clergy to fulfill these roles.
  • Work with WINK Music Coordinator, and WINK Planning Team, on weekly planning, as well as long-term, strategic planning for WINK service.
  • Preach monthly at WINK service, and at least twice per year at traditional service.

Young Adult:

  • Maintaining significant contact with young adult members of the church who are in college, the military, in the workplace or have just graduated from college.
  • Providing programming, such as Bible Study and fellowship gatherings, for Young Adult members and non-members of the church.

General:

  • Participation in weekly staff meetings
  • At least monthly supervision with Head-of-Staff

 

2010: My personal Year in Review

December 31, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Candidate Process, Job Search, Life, Religion, Seminary, Work 

I haven’t done a Year in Review post for a few years because I didn’t have any good news then. The two New Years after the layoff were times that I survived rather than showing improvement. This year was different. Very up and down, but averaging to up.

I started the year still looking for a secular job and having little luck, depressed after just barely missing out on a job right before Christmas. (Irony: after I made my decision to change direction, the person that they picked left and they wanted to interview me again.) That all changed with two days close together in January. One day a good friend accompanied me to a job fair at Rutgers, which turned that day from a depressing trip to a job fair to a day with a friend and by-the-way time at a job fair. We also had lunch with the campus Protestant chaplain at Rutgers and I found myself asking her to have the local seminary contact me. Later I realized that I had no idea why I’d asked for that. A couple weeks later I had a rough Monday morning and the same friend met met for coffee. That conversation led me to make the decision that I had to do serious vocational discernment and seriously consider seminary. What followed that decision is a long story that gets told as the year follows.

February found me stretching in many ways. I started auditing a class at Princeton Seminary and meeting with folks from the seminary and my church about my sense of call. I started serving on my first presbytery committee. I started spiritual direction. And at this point in my journey I was on a dual track – religious vocational discernment and secular job search.

March found me working a part-time job for a local ecumenical group serving as the project manager for a June justice revival weekend. It also found me working full-time (to start) for the US Census counting noses at group living facilities and service-based locations (shelters, food banks). Regretfully the Census job didn’t pan out as advertised and the “full-time” work ended up being at best 15 hours a week and only lasted 3 weeks. But it did give me a technical break in unemployment that allowed me to form my own small business. That business continues to provide a small amount of income and will hopefully do so as I go forward in school. March also found me being approved by the Session of my church to apply to be an Inquirer in the PC(USA).

April found me making what was nearly the final turn to the new direction. The justice revival work got going in earnest. I started the Youth Ministry Certificate program at Princeton Seminary with a retreat before the annual Youth Forums. And I started some steps to take care of the space between my ears.

May was packed with growth for me. The work between my ears got going in earnest. My justice revival work was in high gear before the June weekend. I got to be in the audience of The Daily Show and spend a great evening with two friends. And I got to go to the Unconference (in Maryland in 2010) and make new friendships that I hope to have for years if not forever.

In June the justice revival happened and was an amazing and tiring weekend.  And I began preparations for July.  Also in June I began working on the family stresses that were created by my discernment process and change of career.

In July I got an opportunity that I’d been hoping for since I returned to the church and started working with youth – I got to go to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium.  The youth director at my church wrote the Small Group Manual, and as a result I was able to attend as Small Group Staff, Small Group Leader Trainer, and as a Small Group Leader.   My presbytery’s delegation was housed across the street from the dorm that I was in, so we got to spend a lot of time together.  I had a blast, and attending Triennium cemented my sense of call.  After that trip, the last obstacle between me and my new career path was resolved, and my new journey began.  At the end of July, Carolyn and I got to take a short vacation that we desperately needed – giving us time to reconnect and re-explore each other.

August was a quiet month of preparation work.  I spent the time getting ready for the new year at church (in my new role as President of the Deacons, and with new youth staff) and preparing to meet with CPM.  The Committee on Preparation for Ministry of my presbytery approved me as an Inquirer at the end of the month, beginning the official process towards ordination as a PC(USA) minister.  I also began my work on applications for Princeton Seminary.

September was a very busy month with the beginning of the church year and with seminary application preparation.  At the end of the month I submitted my Princeton Seminary application and kicked off the process of obtaining references.

October was a time of celebration.  Carolyn and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary.  We also one week later spent 3 days visiting Princeton Seminary in the role of prospective student and wife.  Both of us felt very comfortable with that visit and very much at home.  And the big celebration happened a week later at the end of the month, when I received my acceptance for the MDiv program at Princeton!

November brought a chance to enjoy success and reorient myself to my new direction.  I delivered my commitment letter to Princeton Seminary while attending the Emerging Adulthood seminar early in the month.  The rest of the month was spent completing some work between my ears and preparing for the holiday season.

December has been a time of waiting and preparing.  With the help of friends, I’m working on preparing for seminary.  I’m building lists of books to read before I start.  I’m trying to decide about whether to pursue Summer Language (an intensive 10 week program for Greek or Hebrew) or take one last summer trip with my church youth group.  And I’m reorienting my thinking.  One bright event of December was a chance to meet a Twitter friend from Atlanta, one of her friends and a local friend for lunch at Drew University.  I also unfortunately spent the end of November and most of December fighting a sinus infection that took a lot of my energy.

Overarching the year were a few events that do not fit the chronology well.  From late spring until today (and continuing) I’ve been doing a lot of work in my head to grow, and to process the changes that such a large career shift creates.  That large shift has also produces some stresses – in family, in friendships, and in relation to my church.  I’ve worked hard with those involved to try to navigate the emotions produced and the logistics involved.  This in turn has created further growth and improvement in me, in my relationships, and hopefully in the others impacted.  This work has been HARD, but well worth it.  And the relationships that have been involved I believe to be stronger now.  I won’t say that pain is necessary to growth, but I will say that getting through pain successfully often produces growth.  Last, a note that a few serious illnesses of family members came in the fall and that was rough too.  Those family members are on the mend.

Also not fitting the chronology well were the growth of a few new and old friendships through shared experiences.  I can only hope that I have given to them as much as they have given to me.

All in all, this year was a very up and down year.  I am thankful for my wife and friends who supported me through it, who listened to my ravings and pain, and who continue to stand by me.  While it has been rough most of the roughness has taken place in the service of growth in the right direction.  And there have been some glorious moments of celebration and happy-dances.  I’d never have believed that I’d jump up and down in my kitchen past age 40 until the day I opened my seminary acceptance letter.

I end the year with a new direction when I had no direction.  I end the year with strengthened relationships.  And I end the year with new friends that I value greatly.  And I end the year with a much, much stronger sense of the direction that God wants me to take, as well as many reminders that God is always with me.

I’ll take it.

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