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The Touching Art of Chaplaincy

Ordained Deacon June 2nd and awaiting an August 1st start date at my parish of call, I am offering myself as a volunteer hospital chaplain.  The hospital will be "in my orbit" (relating to the parish), and it's good to be able to offer something back to a hospital which has been there for me, my family and many friends.  I've pretty much completed orientation with the Director of Pastoral Care and did some shadowing of other chaplains.  Heart Of My Heart and I leave tomorrow for Florida to check on the in-laws.

An interesting experience shadowing others.  Many things about chaplaincy come back quickly.  One thing is critiquing others.  A specific thing I witnessed that made me cringe was the tendency of chaplains, people who I know well, to touch the patient.  Now having physical contact is not a bad thing.  In fact, it is a personal way of connecting with the other.  But patients have rights, and permissions should be asked for and granted before touching of any kind occurs.

Now I am a touchy person.  But I have seen in two short rounds of shadowing the art of visiting hospital patients may breed more familiarity on the part of chaplains than that to which they are entitled.  Unless the other is family or a close friend, no touching by the touchee should commence without the permission of the one being touched.  Always ask. And be clear about why and where you may want to touch.  If you offer prayer, and they consent, then ask if it is okay to hold hands, place a hand on a shoulder, or lay hands upon the shoulders or head.  Ask.  Patients have rights.  Chaplains should be better about upholding those rights than any others. 

Now I'm by no means perfect.  There is much where flexing pastoral muscles needs more active exercise.  But I do consider myself re-oriented.  I think I'm ready to resume active pastoral visiting.  I'll probably practice on my family while we're in Florida.  Oh boy!  Someone better let them know that I'm coming.