What kind of persons do you work with? What are their basic needs?
As the director of Pastoral Care, I serve as the pastor of Princeton Baptist Medical Center, which includes patients, families and staff. Princeton is a Level III Trauma Center; we have intensive care units, a Comprehensive Cancer Center, general medical floors and surgeries. I serve as a resource for those in the community that we serve in the west end of Birmingham, offering care to city officials, responders, educators, students of public schools, etc.
In what way has your work informed your thinking about what it means to respect another person’s humanity? Give some specific examples.
John 1:14 and Philippians 2:5 have shaped my thinking about what it means to be human and to respect another’s humanity. If as ministers we want to learn to speak the language of those we serve, we have to be willing to be in the places where they find meaning—places of crisis and celebration. Here are a few examples.
I was on call one morning and the infection disease specialist had me paged. When I called him back he asked, “Are you one of those chaplains who does not want to deal with people with HIV/AIDS?” I said, “No, sir, I would gladly come,” but on the way there I began to think I had never knowingly been around anyone with AIDS. I started rehearsing what I knew—that you can’t get AIDs by being in the room with or by touching them. When I got to the room, I stood at the door, introduced myself and asked if there was anything I could do. The patient stretched out her hand and said, “You can hold my hand.”
I was on call at Princeton and a beautiful young lady had overdosed on Tylenol. She was actively dying. The nurse informed me that her father, who was from Cullman, Alabama, was in the prayer room and wanted a chaplain. Immediately I started thinking of all of the negative things I had heard about Cullman. I felt my guard go up. I was sure that this man would not want me, an African American woman as his chaplain. But I was the only one in the hospital, so I went. I walked into the room and introduced myself, and he fell into my arms crying, thanking me for coming and begging me to pray. He taught me that those of us who have been mistreated because of our race are also biased. He helped me get a good look at my own racism.
All of these teachers were patients who deepened my understanding of what it means to respect and honor the imago Dei in those to whom I minister.
What theological insights have been helpful in your ministry?
I believe that all people are created in the image of God and that all human beings are special and have worth. My theological history, which was always absorbed in love for humankind, has given me a good foundation to develop a broader worldview and to hear and evaluate conversations from a variety of sources. As I have interacted with people from multiple walks of life, ministered in the hospital and been in dialogue with CPE students, my former “blacks and whites,” “rights and wrongs” have been challenged enormously. I have discovered that I don’t have to have all of the answers to minister. Not having to know it all has brought refreshing freedom and elasticity to my faith.