Here at Building Faith we know that Christian Formation occurs in many other places besides church and Sunday school. The home, the school – the car! What about the hospital?
We caught up with Kristen Pitts, who is completing her Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in Grand Forks, North Dakota. This means she serves a chaplain intern, ministering with patients, family members, and hospital staff.
Does Christian Formation occur in CPE? You bet it does. Read Kristen’s reflections below.
“What are you doing here?”
Often when people here in Grand Forks find out I’m from South Carolina, their response is a shocked, “What are you doing here?” Apparently even some North Dakotans find it strange that anyone would choose to spend much time in their state. I always assure them I’m leaving before the cold arrives, as my constitution is more suited for climates in which flip-flops are year-round footwear.
And I admit, for the first few weeks, I found myself asking that same question: What am I doing here, 2,000 miles away from home, going through what is widely recognized as one of the most intense experiences of the ministerial journey?
But while CPE almost inevitably forces us to grow, engaging in CPE in a completely new environment has offered me insights I might not have experienced elsewhere:
The importance of community worship
Being here has reminded me how important a vital, stable worship community is to one’s faith journey, as I am something of a transient in this place. I miss the steady relationship formed from months of worshiping and eating and praying together. In these relationships we face the challenge of journeying together, and we know the joy of walking with those who know our gifts and our flaws and insist on loving us as Christ does anyway.
I am increasingly convinced that intentional community is fundamental to our spiritual growth. Jesus shows up every time we come to the table together. It is communion not only with Christ, but with the whole community of saints, including those in the pew next to us.
Jesus shows up in more unexpected places as well. I am surprised over and over again to find that I am never the only representative of God in the room. The nurses who speak so gently to patients and family members, the doctors who offer a hand on the shoulder as bad news is absorbed, and the patients who insist on a position of deep hope in the midst of their pain all speak of Christ to me. They remind me that Jesus walks among us every day, showing up through the love of people around us. As some in my sponsoring parish like to say, these people become “God with skin on” for those around them, including myself.
The kindness of neighbors
Far away from my supportive communities at seminary and in South Carolina, I am learning once again to trust God to provide in the midst of apparent scarcity. I’ve found ways to reach out to my established communities, as they’ve reached out to me, sending me postcards and baked goods. And, somewhat unexpectedly, I’ve found generous support in the people here as well. A complete stranger offered me a room in her home for the summer and has introduced me to her friends, with whom I’ve learned to play several games I’d never heard of before (Farkle, anyone?). The other vegan in my CPE program and I have have shared much food and many laughs about our struggles in the dietary realm, providing a rare sort of companionship. And innumerable people have been “North Dakota nice” in helping me navigate the somewhat different world of small city Midwestern life.
God promises to be with us no matter where we go, and despite the fact that I am far from the communities in which I expect to encounter Christ, God keeps showing up. This is a reminder I need almost daily, that when God calls us to travel beyond our known territory, God also intends to journey with us. Indeed, I am finding that it is sometimes in those unknown, uncomfortable places that we are most likely to meet Christ anew.
Kristen Pitts is a rising second year student at Virginia Theological Seminary. You can read more of her reflections on her blog The Fatal Capacity.