Last April, I wrote about an event I witnessed at the Subway near my church. An older, deaf man collapsed while in front of me in line. As other people around me rushed to fulfill positions (a medical professional ran to his aid, someone grabbed a chair for the man, the Subway worker called 911), I stood there, wondering what to do. Here is what I wrote about this:
What was my role in this moment? As a pastor, did I have a task I should be doing? Should I comfort the wife, who was standing by her husband looking frightened and confused? That would require pushing through the throng which surrounded the man in the chair. I didn't know her, and she didn't know me. There was nothing about me that identified me as a pastor, as a person who seeks ways to help.
I've been thinking about this story a lot as I've been getting used to my role as a chaplain at the children's hospital. Reading this story again, I realize that yes, I could have gone to the wife and introduced myself to her. I could have held her hand as others cared for her husband. I could have - but the me of last April would not have done, and did not do that.
What I was missing at that moment was not only confidence in myself, but confidence in my identity. Sure, it's easy to identify yourself as a minister when you're in your church, or even when you're at a church event outside the building. But to do so outside of the church, in a completely secular place with people I did not know...that required me to be comfortable and confident in my position as a pastor in the world. And I was lacking that confidence at that time./
I didn't know it then, but looking back it is so incredibly clear. I wasn't confident about others seeing me as a minister. I wasn't confident in claiming that identity among "normal" people. I wasn't ready to witness their reaction, to wait to see if they would accept me in that identity, or if they would laugh at me and turn away. I wasn't confident.
To be a chaplain requires confidence in self, and confidence in identity. When you walk into a room, you do not know the people, and the people do not know you. There is nothing to identify you as a chaplain, other than your badge (in tiny print). YOU must identify yourself. YOU must have the confidence to claim that identity and tell it to those you are visiting. If you can't claim that identity, then you'll never make it into the room. There will be people who deny you that identity, who say "You're too young, too female." There will be people who do not want you to have that identity. But having that confidence of identity makes you strong enough to risk hearing their denial. Because you believe in your identity, and others have celebrated that identity that you claim.
I was terrified walking into rooms the first few times I did it. I'll admit - I'm still a little terrified. But each time I walk into a room and introduce myself as "Nicole, one of the chaplains," I become a little more comfortable, a little more confident. And having that confidence allows me to care for those in the room.
If I were to return to that Subway with the experience and confidence I have now, I know what I would do. I would put my hand on the wife's shoulder and say to her, "My name is Nicole, and I'm a pastor. Is there anything I can do for you?"