One metaphor of pastoral care I like is the idea of the chaplain as an usher.
First, my mentor shared this idea with me when I asked him at the beginning of CPE about his vision of ministry. This image also resonates in me because I used to volunteer as an usher in my home church. I learned firsthand what an usher has to do and the challenges than an usher has to face while serving in the congregation. Second, the following words have shaped me deeply throughout the years: From a distance, people can impress others. Closely, they affect them.
Among the most interesting things I notice is the role of empathy/sympathy one should have in order to welcome people so they can feel comfortable. If there is a place where true empathy is needed is when working as an usher. Many people say ‘hi’ or ‘good morning’, and ushers may reply to them with a welcoming gesture, or saying it’s great to have them there. However, not everyone responds to the usher’s greetings in the way an usher might expect. Most people respond appropriately, but there are others who do not even respond very well or do not do it at all. Some people will not smile or return the same of cordiality of the usher. But despite people’s responses, the usher must remain empathic to those who have attended to the church. Most ushers understand that not everyone experienced the week in the way they did and that it is not their responsibly for people’s bad attitudes.
Another aspect regarding seeing the chaplain as an usher is that sometimes an usher’s words have a powerful impact on the people. Ushers do not even need to talk to offend someone: inappropriate facial expression, or forgetting to smile when someone visits the congregation, are easy ways to make people uncomfortable. The key is that ushers cannot forget that they represent someone greater than themselves. Uhers represent the minister, who at the same time represents God. A person who is rejected by an usher is someone who probably will feel like the whole congregation is also rejecting him/her. Conversely, people who feel accepted and welcomed by an usher will probably feel accepted by the congregation. In short, the usher’s presence at the church door makes a difference in people’s responses.
Last but not least, similar to ushers, chaplains should be ready to welcome people as they are, offering them grace without being judgmental, listen to people when they talk and respond appropriately, remain calm despite being mistreated, and develop a strong sense of his/her calling to serve others. The chaplain as the usher does not lead people’s attention to themselves, but to someone else. The chaplain as the usher is called to serve and not to be served!