Mar. 12, 2018.
My first blog as Rev. Sarah Caine! It’s still sinking in that I have made it to this honorific. Thank you all for making it possible. The power to grant this title rests with the congregation, and you inspire and humble me with your votes of confidence. I hope I serve you and this calling well.
Part of the training to become a UU minister is doing at least one unit of clinical pastoral education (CPE). This means 3 months usually working in a hospital (there are some programs in hospice or working with marginalized communities) as a chaplain. There is a lot of trial and error, reflecting in a group of other similarly situated people, reflecting with a trained supervisor, feeling many emotions at once and decompressing with trusted seminary friends. Two of the most valuable lessons during my five units of CPE were the ministry of absence and the idea that ministry is a job of “being” not “doing.”
The United States, and much of the industrialized world, values completion of tasks and business. To be sure, there are many tasks that need to be done for our modern world to continue, but it is so easy to get caught up in doing tasks and checking items off our to-do lists that we neglect the rich and nourishing act of being. Ministry is one of the oddest jobs I have experienced. To be good at ministry, I need to take time for stillness, silence and prayer. If I am to be there as a support for the many people I serve, I need to make sure my own spiritual and emotional wells are replenished. This is counterintuitive after decades of training to always be working toward some accomplishment or goal. It means breaking the addictive habit of nonstop screen time and information input – not having a podcast on in the background of my Facebook scrolling means I have to be present with myself and the sea of emotions and physical demands of living in this human body.
Pastoral care is a ministry of being present while not always doing anything. During CPE, we are trained to turn off the response to offer solutions or suggestions. Chaplains and ministers decondition the normative responses so we can be witnesses and companions for people on this beautiful and tumultuous life journey. And, we are told that it is a ministry to give people space to be present with themselves without our being in the room. We are encouraged to allow our caregiving to empower patients and congregants to practice being rather than doing by a ministry of absence. This can be frustrating and healing all at once, for ministers and congregants.
Since striking out on my own as a minister and leaving the official designation of “student,” I have had to wrestle with the absence of the many seminary professors who were models of the dynamic act of balancing life in the being and the doing. I am now the person charged with modeling a harmonious life and supporting you all as you live yours. Encouraging you to take some time for internal stillness and unplugging from the information overload. To generate your own presence, as Thich Nhat Hanh says. May you take a break from “doing” in order to “be,” reconnecting your mind and body to the present moment and living deeply.