Hiding in Church


I have been working on CPE (clinical pastoral education) training for the last few months. It is a challenge for me. I enjoy academics, teaching, organizing, strategizing, and blogging. But to walk up to a stranger (in a hospital or anywhere else) really goes against my temperament. But I want to grow in this area. 

So I go to the hospital. Most of the patients there have as their first language Ilocano, Kankana-ey, or Ibaloi. I speak English and some Tagalog. Working in the academic and professional settings of Baguio City, Philippines, English is more than adequate, and any Tagalog I know just adds another dimension. But in the provincial hospital I am at, it is different. In the end, a lot of my conversations with the patients ends up as a mutually uncomfortable “Taglish” (mix of English and Tagalog). I would like to say that my presence is welcome, but I don’t really know. Filipinos are normally exceptionally gracious, so I generally feel welcomed enough.

But as an introverted person feeling inadequate due to my language inadequacies, I have the desire to step away from what I am doing periodically. My way of stepping away has been to go to the hospital chapel and sit down. I am not sure why I chose that spot. I suppose it is because it is quiet. It is also possible that the structure and symbols of the chapel make me feel refreshed… but I doubt that is why. Most of the symbols and images are for a different religious tradition than my own.

I suppose, on further analysis, I would stay at the chapel because I felt I needed a place that was quiet where I felt that I “belonged.” As a foreigner with inadequate language skills working as a chaplain with limited social skills, I feel like I don’t belong in the hospital. Maybe, however, the key point is that as a chaplain, I feel that the chapel is the one place in the hospital that I do belong (there is no chaplain office at this hospital).

Once I came to that realization, I made an adjustment. I moved out of the chapel and into the hallways of the hospital. Unlike many Filipino hospitals, this one has lots of seating. I still recharge my introversion battery, but I do it with the people rather than cloistered away from them.

I feel that I am not alone in this. A lot of Christians have been conditioned to feel uncomfortable anywhere but in church. Some of this was deliberate programming from others. When believers enters a church they are often barraged with all sorts of activities to ensure that they don’t “backslide into the world.” Eventually, many feel out of place anywhere except their own house and church. Their friends are at church, their ministry is at (and in) church. They, obviously, leave church but feel awkward, out of place, strangers. They look forward to minimizing these uncomfortable moments.

I do like the idea of church as a refuge (I have posted on that as well). But I believe it should ideally be a refuge for the hurting soul not from the world. The world CAN be a scary place (sadly, so can church) but hiding in church can make it seem even more scary.

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