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Narrative & Place: A Lay Chaplain's Perspective

This week, Randy Oglesby, an Episcopal lay chaplain, who has taken two certified units of CPE, offers his reflections about the essential skill of paying attention to his own reactivity as he listens to the stories of his patients in a retirement home. Thank you Randy, for giving us a glimpse into your important ministry.

I have been thinking a lot about narrative and place, and their relationship.

Recently I began working as a volunteer chaplain at a retirement home. My previous work was at a hospital, and after my first several encounters with residents at the home, I realized how different this would be and how the residents’ narratives were so much affected by the place.

In a hospital the patient is inundated with the medical narrative of being a patient, the countless interruptions of doctors and nurses, and the immediate duress of injury or illness.

Lay Chaplain Randy Oglesby

In a retirement home the narrative of place is different but no less manifest in how it shapes the residents’ lives. These are not people in the same kind of duress as patients in a hospital, but no less impacted and reactive to the place, and this comes out in the stories they tell of themselves.

And, thus, for the chaplain worth considering as we proceed in our relationships with them, and as we observe the recurring themes that are related to place. For instance, residents at the home expressed similar notes as they lamented the loss of agency they experienced moving into the retirement community. Many had given up family homes, cars, mobility, etc., and it was a very new re-ordering of their lives. And you could hear it in their new stories about themselves. In a new place. Who were they here? What is their story now?

And for the chaplain, how does this place affect the way he is hearing their stories? How does this specific place affect self-reflection? What transferences does this place evoke? For me, an almost 75 year-old man listening to seniors in this home, this place most definitely can determine how I hear them. And I need to be aware of this.

So, yes, recently I have been thinking about narrative and place.

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