Where do you go when your own turn on you? Where do you turn when you have none of your own to be there for you? To whom do you go when your own can no longer speak to your needs? The following are chaplaincy case studies that address tending to the pastoral care needs of people estranged by, or needs not met by their own community.
Case One: Two couples both lived as heterosexuals for years to avoid discrimination and prejudice. The gentlemen are homosexual. The ladies are lesbians. One area of their life that was very important to them all was their religion and their Church. They grew up in a spiritual environment. They like attending services, singing hymns, celebrating holidays, and performing rituals. They lived next door to one another. After dark, late at night they arranged for their real partners to be with each other.
Over time, each household adopted children. This threatened to bring down the whole charade. Children in their innocence aren't very good about keeping secrets. This left them with a big dilemma.
They lived a lifestyle condemned to this day by their Church. But the Church still spoke to other of their spiritual needs. They wanted to impart those aspects of their religion to their children, and live this life. They felt they had not left the church, the Church had left them.
They came to me only after they had tried, over and over again to find within their own faith community a place where they would be accepted, not despised for who they are.
After research, we were able to identify a Church not wildly different than their own in content and form that would indeed accept them. It isn't ideal. If given the chance, they would return to their spiritual roots in a heartbeat. At least they are now in a situation where they can follow the same religion, just in a different movement.
Case Two: A woman converted from Southern Baptist to Islam following an acrimonious divorce. As a single mother she was raising her daughters as Muslims. She and they seemed happy with the new approach to matters of the spirit. As the girls flowered into womanhood, they ran into unwanted attentions from local males.
One night, the older of the two young ladies was walking home with her younger sister from after school religious instruction. A gang of young men attacked her, and she was beaten and raped by one whose attentions she previously had spurned.
The younger girl ran home for help, but her mother was working. She approached several neighbors for help. Finally one called the police. By the time they showed up the rape had already occurred, and the girl had been beaten, and threatened not to talk to the police.
The mother went to her Mosque pastor. Her assaulted daughter was treated as if she was impure and it was her fault. The mother was given a very cold reception.
An elderly lady of a religion different than Islam and Judaism in her tenement had related to this mother that when she was in the hospital, and clergy from her faith were not available she had a positive series of experiences with me as her Chaplain. By that referral she came to me.
We spoke at great length. I was able to introduce her to the Imam at another Mosque close by. I know him from both Chaplaincy, and Interfaith Relations work. He arranged for transportation, introduction to Congregational members of similar age and interests in each case. They were warmly accepted into their new Mosque. Transportation was arranged to and from home and school by Mosque members. In this case, they had to add some miles for travel, but were able to stay within their own religion and movement while being fully accepted. The rape case is in court. Both girls and the mother are in counseling and follow up care from state licensed board certified professionals. A fund has been set up to cover these costs. Donations are from the Mosque, women's groups, and the larger community who are friends to those victimised by sexual assault.
Case Three: While language and content vary, atheists and agnostics share very similar concerns at end of life that religious people do. They are afraid of loss of life. They are in pain. They don't want to leave life unfulfilled. They are concerned that when they leave this life they will not have made their mark, and will be forgotten. It is like they never lived at all.
Discomfort, fear, lack of legacy all are upsetting to them. In their cases, they may not have an after life concept. The communities they found spoke to their needs in life give them no support going forward after this life ends. Or so they thought.
There are Chaplains for atheists and agnostics as well. They are not well known but they are there. Where ever possible I refer, with patient approval them to Chaplains of their own ideological preferences, just as I do with people of other religions.
If that is not possible, and they will want my services, or if from the start they specifically want my services and do not want to be referred elsewhere I remain with them. There are many things to be done for them that are not different than for religious people to help them accept the death process by the time they are in hospice and palliative care.
Providing them with such words, concepts, verbal and other images as bring them peace are in order. Assisting them to work on exiting this life in style, grace and dignity within the confines of what they do and do not believe is appropriate, and appreciated.
Not having a religion means not having religious rituals at the end of life. But it doesn't mean that we cannot work to create original rituals that are meaningful. Passages from literature that speak to them in life, and comfort them as they culminate their lives can be read. Music can be played and sung. There are things to do that speak on terms meaningful to them.
It is always preferable that people are accepted by, have their needs met by, live and exit life in the way they lived and wanted to live life by. That doesn't always happen, for any number of reasons. It is important that there be people to whom people can turn who will respect what their needs are, and the ways they want their needs to be addressed also respected.
It it important to do this because language and concept differences aside, we are all members of the same human family. Our needs are not that different. Our needs matter.
They are most important when we need resources beyond ourselves to address them. When we are at our most vulnerable the ones who are there for us on the terms we want, not use us for their needs and beliefs, they are the ones who get what it means to be a responsible member of the human family.
To whom can you turn? How will you handle things when others turn to you? The questions are not unrelated.
Peace, Blessings, and Service from all to all. Enoch.