Learning to Listen – Reflections on being a Chaplain
Jamie Bradshaw graduated from CCS in 2014. For this year’s spring learning circle of the Pastoral Care Year she was invited to volunteer as a chaplain. As you read her reflections on the experience we invite you to think about whether you might consider volunteering 16 days of your time to be a pastoral presence to students. For alumni, this is a great opportunity to re-connect with the community of a learning circle.
When I first attended CCS as a student in 2010, I had no idea of what I was taking on, nor how, ultimately, I would be transformed by my experience. Through hard work, determination, gentle prodding and (not so subtle) guidance (at times), and (a lot of) humility as I came to understand myself in different ways, I emerged in 2014… a graduate of both CCS and the University of Winnipeg, and ultimately, a diaconal minister in The United Church of Canada. I thought I was done… finally due for a rest from the hectic pace and unrelenting self examination which was asked of me as a student.
I was surprised, even a bit bewildered, when I was asked to come back to the spring 2015 learning circle as a chaplain. What could I possibly offer to these students other than a doctrine of “stick-to-it-ness”? What could I possibly say to encourage them to delve deeply into their own beings in the hopes they, too, may discover things about themselves they never dreamed existed? What could I possibly do to affirm their gifts and offer gentle encouragement to examine their growing edges?
Turns out, that trip back to CCS as chaplain was just what I needed… while the official guidelines said I should do all the readings (beforehand) and be ready to engage, I didn’t have time to prepare. Yet I found I had no need to prove myself “smart,” no need to demonstrate that I was an expert on all subject matter, no need to pretend I had all the answers so could solve everyone’s problems. What I discovered was that if I was able to stay silent for more than a moment or two, I could be the listening ear that many of the students needed as they grappled with the brokenness of human realities they confronted in this theme year.
Of all my years at CCS, the Pastoral Care year was most challenging for me. This was the year in which I had to confront my own fears… examining my own family and community dynamics… imperfect and sometimes totally dysfunctional relationships, addictions and abuse, fragile mental health, a family legacy of dementia, my fear of never living up to the expectations of others.
And so, while I was entrusted with many of the students’ stories that often sounded so familiar to my own, I learned, above all, to listen… not to place myself into their story, not to pretend to have a one-size-fits-all solution to all their problems, not to offer sage advice that would protect them from all harm as they journey through life. Instead, in that short time we had together, I learned to really listen… hopefully becoming that person they can truly trust… the person who will hold their story as sacred… the one who will always remember my time with them as a holy moment… a brief intersection of their lives and mine which caused us all to grow.
So as I ponder my time of chaplaincy at the Centre for Christian Studies, I am grateful… grateful for the opportunity to share in this fragile, sacred time of creating new friendships… grateful for the reminder that our journey together, no matter how long, is never complete… grateful that the One who calls us to serve calls us to serve each other… in both humility and trust… grateful to have witnessed the transformation in each and every one of the students in just a few short weeks.
Shalom, my friends.
CCS learning circles take place in the fall and spring (eg. the Social Ministry Year circles this year will be in October and April) and LDMs usually take place in June and August. If you’re interested in being a chaplain, contact Maylanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.