Pro re nata. When necessary.

I was standing in the hallway of a hospital, holding a patient’s chart. The patient was receiving chest compressions.

Receiving is not the right word. Experiencing might be better.

This isn’t what I ever expected to do.


I had never thought about being a hospital chaplain. But in November it had become clear to me that it was time to change jobs. Or better, to resign my job as an executive pastor without knowing what was next. It was, Nancy said, like Abraham. Told to move. Not told where.

So I resigned, effective in 10 weeks. We started thinking and praying about what would be next.

FullSizeRenderI saw a job for Staff Chaplain at a local hospital. I looked through the requirements and the duties. I didn’t have a theological degree, but I did have a decade and a half of pastoring. I didn’t have the formal chaplaincy training, but I had made hospital calls and offered hours of counsel and conducted funerals. It looked like something that I could do, in the meantime at least. The listing said that the position was PRN. I looked it up. It was a Latin term, used in medical circles to mean part time. On call. As needed. When necessary.

Something would be better than nothing. I applied. I heard nothing.

We kind of forgot about it, actually, assuming that the position had been filled.

Until I got a call in January.

It was for an interview, where I started to discover that what I thought about being a chaplain was about 25 percent of being a chaplain. I discovered that the other 75 percent could be learned. And I discovered that I liked the people I met.

The next step was a four-hour walk-along with a current chaplain. Just to see what it was Iike.

It was lots of walking. There was no praying, but some talking. It was some responding to trauma arriving in the ER.

It was wonderful.

I was offered and took the job.

The training was 80 hours of following several chaplains. I learned that there are individual voices. I learned that there are many similar situations, but no identical ones. I learned that the people who have been chaplains for years still have events that happen once or twice a year. I learned that being a chaplain is a blend of running and charting and waiting and listening. And sometimes holding a patient’s chart because the other 15 people in the room are doing everything they can to preserve life so there is something to write in it. It is living in a way to be available PRN. When necessary.

I realized that I should probably talk about what we do, because there are people, like me, who had no idea.

And so I will.


I write about chaplaincy at Linkedin. You can connect with me there for more on topics like these. And I’m returning to Galatians here. So you may want to go back to July 15 and read up.

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