I sit here typing this on my phone as I sit in the emergency room of my local hospital. I am waiting outside a consulting room as the person I am visiting is assessed by medical staff. It’s funny how you don’t see this side of pastoral ministry on the pristine screens of ministry conferences.
Suddenly I find myself overcome by the commitment and dedication of the staff. The level of teamwork is staggering. Yes they are professionals getting paid and I’m sure there is the odd awkward water cooler conversation, but right now the respect for each others’ role is impressive.
A nurse just walks past me as she finishes her shift and half shouts into the staff room to anyone who will care to listen: “love you’s.” To my surprise the response comes in multiple tones; “Love you too/see ya Sunday!” Meanwhile, a young doctor shares a joke with the security guard standing by the entry door 3 meters away from me.
This is a group of people united by one goal; the preservation and improvement of human life. When it is at it’s most vulnerable. Maybe this impressive show of teamwork and mutual respect was brought on by the event that occurred here about 30 minutes ago. Screams and shouting ensued as multiple patients burst through the door under police escort. I imagine something must have gone awry as the situation seemed to escalate, the sound of sirens echoing in from outside. I judge this only upon what I heard as I chose not to look. I did notice however that not one staff member panicked, everyone ran to help but in an ordered way. As staff ran past me towards the kerfuffle it was not a look of panic but focus on their faces. Moreover, everyone seemed to know exactly who’s job it was to run towards the event and who had ‘permission’ to stay by the bedside of certain patients.
There are young people here, old people here, white, black, yellow, green and blue people here. No one’s got any designer labels on, just hospital gowns. No one cares about the political views of the person who is attending to their drip bag. Folks don’t mind the nationality of the doctor who may well be saving their life. In here, it’s just people caring for people. Those who are the carers have their own hurts and struggles to deal with but while they are here, they are putting those aside for the sake of the care of others.
Doctors, nurses, psychologists, specialists, police, security guards even patients. They’re all here because of the implicit value of human life.
Soon, it occurs to me that we should not be surprised that the modern idea of a hospital found its genesis in the Christian tradition. I realize more and more that in a hospital, particularly an emergency room, is the physical representation of the spiritual reality of a Sunday morning church service. We don’t come together to be slick and polished, we come together because people are going to be spiritually dead if they do not receive the care they need. Stat.
But in a consumer culture, we tend to shop for churches to see what they can offer us. We engage in classic misquoting of scripture like the following.
Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching
This is not (just) about ‘come to church or your faith might die’. The author of Hebrews is saying, at least to some “are you part of the team or not?” Feeling like you could take on the world alone? Great, it’s not about you; now get your butt to church because I need you to ‘press hard here to slow the bleeding while I get a bandage of encouragement.’
It’s messy, it’s chaotic but it’s intentional. Some are bleeding out and some are by the bedside caring for them. That’s what’s really going on in all those little conversations that happen on a Sunday. We have no right to turn any away, even those who enter screaming and inconsolable. At some point, doctors and nurses find themselves as patients, and sometimes patients find themselves as co-carers under the great physician.
I sit here realizing that before my eyes is the clearest picture of what church is meant to be like. I saw a great truth in triage and I remember back to when I was silently screaming and inconsolable, for some reason I felt led to place a prayer request in the little wooden box in the church foyer… only to find myself being followed up (to my utter surprise) by someone who really cared.