Last Wednesday Morning: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Last Wednesday Morning
The experience is common to many of us, yet particular to each individual.
I was scheduled for spinal surgery. Owing to the upsurge in Covid infections and hospitalizations, dates had to be shifted, but the time had finally arrived. I spent the week before doing all of the preparatory work that I had been instructed to do at the pre-operative consult. Being borderline compulsive-obsessive, I had also pulled all the papers from the file cabinet that my wife might have need of if matters went south. Three days before the surgery, I wrote an article for my friend, Michael, and sent it off. My priest had already been given copies of any needed final arrangements. Apart from the “professionals” I had only let a very few people know what was going to be happening on the morning of Candlemas.
I already knew of the skill of the surgical team having made a point of researching their academic backgrounds, board certifications and all the rest. More to the point, I liked them and trusted that they had my best interest at heart. Nonetheless, knowing that a scalpel was going to open a five inch incision in my throat at the beginning of a three hour operation tended to focus my mind.
Arriving at the hospital, I spent the next two hours being prepared for surgery. I was particularly impressed by the kindness and consideration of the nursing staff. Young, old, black, white, brown, immigrant and native born; many having worked multiple double shifts in recent weeks, they nonetheless approached their task of care with unfailing professionalism and good humor. When I asked about incidents arising from the pandemic, they said very little. They just wished that the anger and recriminations would stop…
After one last conversation with the surgeon and anesthetist, the time had arrived.
Now, as fate would have it, just as I was being wheeled down the corridor to the operating theater, the hospital fire alarm began to sound. Additionally, the alarm started sounding at exactly the same moment that a prayer was being said over the public address system of the hospital, it being a Roman Catholic institution. The chaos of the alarm and prayer resulted in the surgical nurse and myself bursting into laughter at the same moment. Sometimes humor and the absurd can lighten the burden of fear and anxiety.
The surgery went well and I am now home recovering feeling thankful for the care I received.
Unable to do a great deal in recovery, I’ve tried to reflect on what I experienced and witnessed on that morning last week.
We often refer to the Church as being a hospital for sinners but it often appears, at least to me, a strained analogy in many cases. For instance, on that Wednesday morning, I did not have to question the educational backgrounds, certifications and continuing education of the surgeons and anesthetists. Their background and basic competence could be assumed, as could that of the nursing staff. This cannot always be said of the church. Yet, while this is in some ways obvious, it was the manner in which they carried out their exercise of care that left a lasting impression. Despite being tired, overworked and sometimes even attacked by those they were trying to help, they were more concerned about their patients than they were about themselves. Moreover, while anger on their part might be wholly justified over how they were treated, they responded with a self-possessed dignity and humor.
Now, this is not to say that all the members of the medical profession are saints. In forty plus years of hospital visitation I have encountered “all sorts and conditions”. Yet, in the main, I think that we as the church have much that we could learn. Part of the lesson might be that if we desire people to trust us with their spiritual care, then that trust must be earned. It will not be earned by “demanding our rights” or by expressing our anger at perceived injuries or injustices. It might be earned, however, by simply exercising the care that we claim to offer.
Just a funny aside on the fire alarm-many years ago I taught in a low-income school where most of my kindergartners had very few experiences outside their mobile home park. On the first day of school, as the principal led the pledge of allegiance over the intercom, a little voice said, “Is that God?” I explained it, but they were convinced it was God right up until Christmas.
When I went to Colombia so many years ago, no one cared about my college degree. They did care about my interest in them and my love for their children. Even those who were suspicious of gringos in general came to understand that I was there to serve God and them. i made mistakes, but the bottom line of trust was maintained as I asked for forgiveness and advice on how not to repeat my mistakes. It really made a difference. So did listening. Yes, I have some fantastic teaching strategies, but you know your kid-his/her likes, dislikes, delights. It made a big difference in ministry. I often wondered what impact I had there after I came home so abruptly (family emergency), but when a bunch of my old friends found me on Facebook, I found out. God did so much in those seven short years that has lasted into the future.
I didn’t learn that all by myself. The best advice I ever got was from an elderly missionary friend was, “Listen-you are there to serve, not to have all the answers. You do have answers, and God will show you when they are ready.” It was very good advice.
I trust you will be up and well soon!
I am more and more convinced that real ministry is not a matter of having “all the answers” (we never do, anyway!). It happens, however, when people know that we actually care…
My neighbor is recovering from spinal surgery – praying for both of you
“…if matters went south.”
Glad they didn’t, and nice to hear about the great care you received. Praying as you recover.
Thinking about the church as a hospital for sinners, I attended a Medical Healing Conference at Bethel Church in Redding, California back in May 2017. I was there for research on my dissertation. Most of the attendees were medical professionals. They were the nicest people to be around. The general attitude of kindness and professionalism far exceeded anything I ever experienced at any pastor’s conference. It was then that I starting thinking that hospitals and medical centers just might be the church for broken and sick bodies.
Praying for a full and fast recovery for you Duane.
Many thanks! Starting to recover motor skills on my right side. I was typing left handed most of last year..
Praying for your neighbor…
“The general attitude of kindness and professionalism far exceeded anything I ever experienced at any pastor’s conference.”
I’ve experienced the same in such gatherings. It used to be said that there were only three ‘professions’ – clergy, doctors and lawyers – that is, groups that bound themselves by an oath or ‘professed’ a calling. Medicine may be the last refuge…
When I was a child my doctor was a very committed Seventh Day Adventist.
The waiting room was full of children books from a Christian perspective.
He made a fifty mile round trip every week to check on me at my home…and didn’t expect payment.
It was as close to pastoral care as I’ve ever experienced.
He was revered among the people…and is revered in my heart to this day.
Now, when I go to the doctor, they check me in behind bullet proof glass…
We have lost our way…
“We have lost our way…”
I’m not sure we’ll find our way back, but some people give me hope.
Thanks for sharing your hospital experience and insights. So glad you’re back home recovering. I’ll be praying that your continued recovery will go well.
From what you said about the medical staff, this really spoke volumes:
Despite being tired, overworked and sometimes even attacked by those they were trying to help, they were more concerned about their patients than they were about themselves.
You got it…
Duane, I’m glad your surgery went well. Good word about pastoral care. It is what I expected and needed for years while attending Calvary chapel. But I never once received it. Instead, I was told my expectations were too high and was told to submit to their authority and follow spiritual disciplines because that’s what I needed especially if I desired to be like them who appeared to have it altogether. I look back on these experiences and I realize that my expectations were too high. They were right. Although, all I needed was a simple gesture of kindness, a pinch of humility and an ounce of encouragement it was way too much to ask for from a Narcissistic Moses model pastor to give. These pastors are equivalent to the hospital CEOs who get paid millions but delegate all the actual care to the staff. But in the church the subordinates are learning the tricks of the trade from their boss. Maybe the hospital CEOs serve a useful purpose and deserve the high pay in a hospital but I’m convinced we can completely do away with the pastor CEOs in church. We mainly need pastors who are care givers.
Pastoral are is not an unreasonable expectation. The CEO model barely works in health care… In the church, the CEO model is what I would call a “structural heresy”.
Here are some other thoughts on pastoral care:
Duane,. Thanks. Yes, I agree not unreasonable expectation but when it comes to Calvary Chapel it seems to be.
It begs the question, what is is about some church systems and polities that mitigates against pastoral care?
Duane, I think much of it revolves around idolatry rampant in American churches. One aspect is consumerism that is empowering this idolatry. We are all a product of this culture we live in which seems to put leadership on a pedestal. Ironically though we have a leadership vacuum almost everywhere. The church is no exception.. This vacuum though is quickly filled with the least qualified but most charismatic personalities perpetuating the viscious cycle. Calvary Chapel is easy to explain. Its all based on pragmatism which is why they have been successful. However, it also explains the lack of pastoral care. Basically it’s too inefficient to care for people. There are no requirements at all for the pastorate. None for elders or deacons either. No moral or education requirements. You don’t need seminary education. Infact, you don’t need any training at all as long as you can draw a crowd and convince enough folks to follow you. The results are devastating but the building facilities are impressive.
Steve @ 7:59… Wise words – good Wednesday ponder for a definitely straying church
The “Once Saved, Always Saved” doctrine works against a serious investment in discipleship. If you think nothing you do or don’t do has any bearing on your salvation, why bother? Too much emphasis on discipleship sounds a lot like “Salvation by Works” in some evangelical ears, so better just “Follow as the Spirit leads,” whatever that means, with no real guidance.
Xenia,. It’s good to work in light of your salvation not for your salvation. This has nothing to do with discipleship. Pastors though should fear being disqualified. There is no such thing as a once a pastor always a pastor doctrine although I think some think that way.
What about gratitude as the basis for discipleship?
if one is taught “once saved always saved,” i see no problem with that, BUT
with that goes the obligation, which should also be taught, that one does not stop there, but must develop the mind of Christ or else they are useless children…. not sure what God does with useless children? hmmmm
In terms of church leadership, I think one’s motive matters. If pastoral care and service to others is not part of that motive, I fail to see how one can exercise any leadership in the church. It is not just a job, or providing entertainment, or “being a good teacher”… it’s a calling that carries with it the responsibility of care.
Em (at 1:39 pm)
James 2:14-25 always puts the faith/works dichotomy into balance for me. If there are no works, then faith is suspect; if there is no faith, then works are suspect. If a Christian really is not living a godly life, it might be possible to-carefully-call into question their salvation.
Linn, no problem with that at all…
IMX…. Salvation brings with it an appetite to grow in wisdom and understanding, SO?
One can question the redemption, if the one claiming it just thinks of it as a ticket out of helll…. or so it seems from here