What does a chaplain do? I am asked this question all the time. Over the years I've answered the question in various ways searching for the answer myself. It sometime feels as if I am experimenting with answers to see what feels right. Many people believe chaplains teach about religion while others believe a chaplain's role is to pray with and for people. While I do some teaching and some praying, the longer I serve as a volunteer chaplain I feel my primary role is to just show up, to listen, and to love.
In the jail, it's not uncommon that I will know someone for a long time, sometimes years, before we actually sit and have a one-on-one visit. It takes time to build trust in this environment. I've noticed some people pay close attention to what I am doing before they decide to meet with me. And sometimes our initial communication occurs in writing long before we ever sit and talk face to face.
Our personal life stories are often difficult to share out loud...especially in the jail. Our stories are sacred and we sometimes feel so vulnerable sharing this part of ourselves. Trauma and shame are powerful blocks to our healing. And yet in a beautiful, organic way, there is a gentle healing that occurs when we find the courage to share our stories with others.
I received this initial letter from Ty a couple weeks ago. And now each week when I show up she is waiting with a letter and a warm smile to share. In a couple of weeks without speaking many words out loud, we are building a relationship that is nurturing and transformative for both of us. It may not always look the same, but this is the work of chaplaincy.
Showing up. Listening. Loving.
I just wanted to take some time out and personally thank you for the hair care products you gave me and the special attentiveness you always provide to us. Being incarcerated plays so many mental games with us and it feels great to know that there is someone out there who takes time to hear us out and to most importantly understand us.
I’m sorry I haven’t taken more time out personally to sit down with you after our first session (I plan on changing this one day). It’s just easier most days to act like everything is okay and to keep on pushing on, rather than to take that deep dive into what’s really on my shoulders and mind.
I do listen to some of your sessions with the girls and the advice you provide. Sometimes you’re just an open ear and an open heart, you have no idea how far that foes for us. The jail is so dark, so one-track minded, so bleak… every institution needs someone (maybe a couple) like you. You are very much appreciated!
P.S. – I’m just shy to talk about my problems around the girls, but I’m working on it!