Bringing Jesus to Texas
If y’all had told me a couple of years ago that I would be bringing Jesus to anyone, I would have shaken my head and thought y’all were crazy. While I love Jesus, I am firmly rooted in my interfaith seminary education, and have an ever-expanding curiosity and respect for the diversity and beauty of all paths to the Divine; religious and otherwise. This year, when the opportunity to attend the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) conference came along, I knew that there would be a majority of Christians attending. As chaplains know, I was going to have to meet people where they are… and so I brought Jesus. I brought my brown Jesus, my black Jesus, and my white Jesus.
I also brought several other samples of both faith-specific and secular care cards, to begin spreading the word about these little creations. Initially I thought I would be leaving them in random places for people to discover, (hence the use of wording from Amazing Grace), but soon found that handing them to people directly as I met them created a personal connection, and gave me a moment to talk about them. I brought Jesus to people in the elevator, at dinner, in the lobby, and gave Jesus as a thank you gift to workshop presenters and docents. Jesus also accompanied me to the luncheon and banquet. I am humbled and grateful by the overwhelmingly positive response to these little care cards.
The Marriott Marquis is a brand new facility, and we were given a Texas-sized welcome. The lobby was beautiful with tremendous chandeliers and marble, with ample seating arrangements conducive to lounging, (drinking), and networking. Floating on tubes around the lazy river (on the 6th floor!) was a welcome reprieve from the packed schedule of workshops and conference activities. I enjoyed also meeting and getting to know people at the poolside, and yes, Jesus came to the water with me as well.
I had the privelege of attending a couple of four-hour intensives: one on working with veterans struggling to find a new normal, while facing physical disabilities and mental illness; the other on developing a disaster plan for hospitals in partnership with community. I attended workshops on African American women’s voices, and on creating rituals for end of life transitions. I withstood exposure to perspectives rooted in exclusivist Christian theology, and appreciated witnessing the general movement towards inclusive and pluralistic interfaith approaches of care in chaplaincy.
Tour of Sacred Spaces: Texas Medical Center
We took a walking tour of sacred spaces wihin several different hospitals, all interconnected and part of the Texas Medical Center. There are 106,000 employees at the center, and it is run like its own city within Houston. A couple of the more traditional Christian spaces included stained glass and sacred elements from previous structures that had been dismantled.
An outside space had been themed to a hospital’s exploration of “pathways to healing”, bringing
natural elements of plants, stone, and water into the healing space. The children’s hospital sacred space had fiber optic stars in the sky, and the lighting rotated through day and night cycles, the room’s creation taking into account requests from children to “bring nature in.”
A Muslim masjid had been created with a generous donation from a patient who felt his life had been saved by the hospital, and more sacred spaces were created specifically to be wheelchair accessible, spiritual, restful, and healing, without being tied to a specific religion. Docents in each location consistently stated the hospitals were committed to being open and welcoming to people of all faiths. Many had witnessed Christian services and Muslim prayers happening simultaneously in the same sacred space.
Like I mentioned, this was my first APC conference. I was impressed with the level of organization and the variety of workshops that were offered. I was delighted to have conversations with people from as far away as Trinidad, and to meet people that live in Palo Alto, CA and work at Stanford, only a few miles from my hometown. I was especially moved by our keynote speakers at the banquet, who shared personal stories and perspectives from the African American and LGBTQ communities. I had a handful of heart-to-heart conversations and gained some new perspectives into how CPE training can grow people in a variety of ways. I gained new understanding and insight for my own path, and so very much appreciate the people who spent those hours talking with me, sharing their wisdom, their own vulnerability, their gifts, their strengths. I will keep in touch!
As I prepare to begin my 4th unit of CPE in a week, I will be bringing my new-found knowledge back into my work. Having now been to this conference, I am excited to know a bit more about this broader community of chaplains, the support that this provides to us as individuals making our way through the educational systems towards board certification, and am especially grateful for the new connections and friendships that bloomed throughout the experience. As I had included with my promotion of Jesus cards, may my presence in your work be a blessing. May you find avenues where a small gift of sacred art can make a big difference, both with patients and with staff. May my AltarNative care cards inspire and empower everyone to reach out across the lines of faith and extend a warm and supportive hand. May we all continue to grow in our knowledge of what it means to live with, learn from, and honor the many faiths flourishing around us.
May we be curious. May we be accepting. May we be humble… for G*d’s grace dwells within each of our hearts.
Rev. Jen Miller, Interfaith Chaplain & Illustrator
San Francisco Bay Area, CA