“What the heck is a Chaplain?” he asked in good faith with a wrinkled brow. “Good question,” I said.
He was not interested in knowing how many degrees I had from a theological graduate school called a seminary (although I have been asked “What cemetery did you go to?”). He was not interested in a sermon.
I tried to find a word that might connect with his faith experience. I said, “You know, like a pastor, priest, rabbi, or imam?”
“Uh huh,” as he squinted his eyes and looked at me skeptically. “What do you do here?”
I took a deep breath and said “I listen to people and try to meet them where they are, and make sure they know we care about them.”
“So where is your church?” he asked. “You are sitting in it,” I said smiling. “This is my church. We use chairs and exam tables instead of pews.”
He looked at me like I didn’t understand his question. I looked at him like he didn’t understand my answer. We both smiled.
There was a knock on the door in the middle of our sentence as the doctor walked into the room to begin his medical exam. I shook the patient’s hand, gave him my card, and told him I looked forward to talking more when he had a chance.
“See ya Rev,” he said smiling. Maybe he understood more than I knew.
I wanted to tell him more.
I wanted to tell him what a special place The 1917 Clinic is and that I think we are the only HIV Clinic in the United States who employs not just one, but two full time chaplains because of people like Dr. Michael Saag (founder of the clinic in 1988) who cares for the whole person, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I wanted to tell him that I love finding a need in the clinic and figuring out how to fill it, whether it appears “spiritual” or not.
I wanted to tell him that he was loved, that he is a child of God, and that we care about him. I will next time.
But today, on Ash Wednesday I will pray for all of my congregation called The 1917 Clinic at UAB where all God’s children are welcome. This is a place where we all fall short of the mark, and if it weren’t for God’s grace or forgiveness we would all be in trouble.