This morning I had an appointment with my primary-care physician for routine medication follow-up. Before I left, I read this post on Marshall's blog. The post is a continuation of his series about the place of volunteers in chaplaincy, and includes the following comment from Melvin Ray, Director of Pastoral Care for the Hunt Memorial Hospital District in Greenville, Texas:
Yes, volunteer ministers can minister to those believers who desire such help; let the “Pink Ladies” coordinate this. Chaplaincy is a documented clinical intervention accomplished by a highly trained, certified, and well paid health care professional. Chaplaincy should not be entrusted to volunteers.To be fair, I need to point out that I'm quoting this out of context; Marshall has a link to Ray's complete comment. But the part I've quoted here definitely made me see red -- or pink.
A frequent visitor to the ED where I volunteer recently told me, "You're a wonderful chaplain! I hope you never leave!" Chaplain Ray would presumably tell this patient that she's wrong and that I have no business even talking to her, or that if I do talk to her, I should identify myself as a "volunteer minister" rather than as a "volunteer chaplain."
Hey, whatever. If a mere change in wording will make you feel less threatened, I'm happy to oblige. (I would like to point out that I've ministered to non-believers, too, many of whom gave every indication of being genuinely grateful.) But the label "Pink Ladies" is sexist, condescending, and generally unbecoming a chaplain.
Yes, most volunteers in my hospital are women, but some are men.
The volunteer coordinators, who are likewise both female and male, work very hard to provide training, support, and scheduling. Their jobs won't be any easier if other people in the hospital dismiss them. If Chaplain Ray is distressed that professional chaplains don't get enough pay or respect -- and one doesn't have to read far between the lines to see that subtext -- one would think he'd be especially careful not to belittle colleagues in the volunteer services department. They don't get paid enough, either.
Volunteers and volunteer coordinators take what they do very seriously. Patients take what they do very seriously. Many staff take what they do very seriously. I don't have numbers to prove this, but I strongly suspect that most hospitals couldn't function very well without their volunteers.
I don't know Chaplain Ray's religious tradition. In my tradition, baptism includes the promise to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" and to "respect the dignity of every human being." I don't believe that someone who would dismiss me as a "Pink Lady" is respecting my dignity or seeking to find the image of Christ in my life and work. For that matter, I don't believe that dismissing an entire class of people as "Pink Ladies" even begins to pass the WWJD test.
My name is Susan. I'm a unique and beloved child of God with irreplacable (and unreproducible) strengths, shortcomings, hopes, and aspirations. There is only one of me; I am as individual and complex as a snowflake or a fingerprint.
And pink is so not my color.
Okay, so all of this is swirling through my head as I drive to the doctor's office. I've brought coffee in a travel mug; the best time to see my doctor is at 8:00 a.m., because she's a really good doctor who spends more time with patients than the fifteen minutes alotted by the managed-care system, which means that if you don't grab her earliest slot, you'll wait all day. But if pink isn't my color, morning isn't my time.
So I get there, bleary-eyed, and have various measurements taken by a nice nurse.
Oxygen level: 95%. Excellent.
Blood pressure: 100/62. Excellent.
Pulse: 105. "That's a little high," the nurse says, frowning, and then sees my travel mug. "Oh, it's the coffee."
No, I don't think so. I always have 8:00 appointments with my doctor, and I always have my travel mug with me, and my pulse is usually between 70 and 90. (This is a new nurse, who doesn't know that.) So I don't think it's the coffee.
I think it's the anger over having my ministry -- and the ministries of friends and colleagues I love dearly -- trivialized by someone who's never met any of us and doesn't know diddly about what we do.
Is my pulse rate my problem? Yes, sure. Do I need to learn to calm down about this stuff? Yes, certainly. Does Chaplain Ray need to be more respectful of volunteers?
What do you think?