Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Pink Ladies

We now have documented medical proof that chaplaincy controversies are harmful to your health!

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?


  1. Chaplain Ray needs beating about the face with a wet fish. That, or a session in the Total Perception Vortex (although I have the horrible feeling he would emerge quoting Xaphod - 'Pretty Cool'.

    Being one of God's officials doesn't do away with a man's inaliebable right to speak elsewhere than from his mouth.

  2. Let's see. Jesus? Probably an amateur, and definitely one if the canonical gospels are right. Paul? Definitely an amateur. James, Jesus's brother? Possibly taught, most likely in the Essene tradition. But, by modern standards, yet another amateur. Are they all pink ladies?

  3. I think it is clear that he is feeling stressed in an environment where he keeps feeling lumped with congregational clergy whose traditions call more for charismatic vocation, and not for professional preparation. And it can be difficult functioning if that's the paradigm of the folks one works with, or even of the patients one serves.

    In our health system a decade ago we started a new blood and marrow transplant program. The new head came from a hospital in the southeastern US, where he had seen bad pastoral care, at least from a professional standpoint, leveled against patients with terminal conditions. It's hard to hear those prayers for miracles that as health care folks we can't promise and, based on previous experience, don't expect. At first he didn't want to work with chaplains at all. By committing to him that only professional staff chaplains would see his patients (and by reminding him that the Episcopal Church owns the system), we were able bridge that gap. With time, as he saw the quality of pastoral care we expected of all personnel, staff or students, he relaxed.

    I tell people a lot of my time is spent repairing the damage done by bad clergy. Some of my colleagues have to fight that battle more than I do.

  4. Martyn: No beatings, please! I think the message there would be counter-productive! And yes, plenty of us, even women (!), speak from colorful body parts; I've often been accused of the practice myself.

    Will: Yes, I was thinking that too. My completely unchurched, non-Christian husband -- who's nonetheless edits all my homilies -- actually used the word "Pharisee," which I'd been trying very hard not to use.

    Martyn: I spend time undoing the damage done by bad clergy, too. I sympathize with the problem, but I still think that tarring all volunteers (or staff who work with volunteers) as "pink ladies" is offensive and unacceptable, especially in someone who's the head of a pastoral care department.

    Also -- at least where I am -- congregational clergy visiting their flock aren't considered hospital staff. They're visitors. The hospital has no more oversight over them than it has over people's visiting spouses, friends or children, who also sometimes (alas!) say damaging things.

    I'm technically "staff," although not paid or full-time staff, which means that I have an official hospital ID badge and am held to certain standards. If community clergy want to become hospital chaplains, they have to accept those standards too; they wouldn't be allowed into the program if they insisted on evangelizing or engaging in inappropriate prayer practices.

    This is the problem I have with the "volunteers have to be trained" issue: yes, sure we have to be trained. So train us. If the hospital isn't willing to do that, the lack of training is the hospital's fault, not the volunteers'. And if the hospital simply doesn't have the resources to offer appropriate training, that isn't the fault of people who'd happily volunteer if the training were available.

    Yes, anyone with a hospital badge saying "chaplain" (lay or ordained, staff or volunteer) needs training. Anyone with such a badge should be subject to quality control. Anyone without a hospital badge simply can't be subject to the same kind of quality control. Surely that's a distinction most people can grasp?

  5. Hmmm...I don't ever remember Jesus graduating with a theology degree. He didn't have to, He IS the WORD.

    Chaplain Ray is wrong. Just wrong.

    A "Pink Lady" is a character in "Grease", so unless you moonlight as Rizzo, you aren't a Pink Lady.

    When we couldn't get a priest to come into give my aunt the Sacrament of the Sick, we just prayed together. We would have been thrilled to have had the spiritual support of a volunteer chaplain.

  6. Hi, Kim! Thanks for commenting!

    And yes, the problem with the "volunteers aren't good enough" stance is that all too often, the choice isn't between a volunteer and a professional: it's between a volunteer and nobody.

    Unfortunately, the hospitals with really small spiritual-care departments, where using volunteers might be most helpful, are also the ones with the fewest resources to offer training (and also the ones where staff chaplains may be most nervous about being replaced by volunteers).

    But I agree with you: the bottom line is that the "real" chaplain is the one who shows up.

  7. I have a serious problem with ANY statement that has all of any category of human beings being anything judgemental (other than the children of God) We are all individuals and we don't come off any production line. Whenever we forget it we are storing up troubles.

    Okay, I don't always practice what I preach, but I hope I try.

    Okay, no beatings. I promise.

  8. I couldn't agree more, Martyn. But, y'know, this brings up the issue of tactical strategies. Would being beaten with a wet fish by a proponent of volunteer chaplains convince you to use them? ;-)

    And the poor fish! What has it ever done to us?


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