By Reverend Angel L. Sullivan
One of the worst parts of my call as an ordained minister serving as a chaplain is to look a parent in the face as I stand with the doctor when he or she says, “I am sorry. I could not save your child.”
I’ve experienced countless trauma in my life. I am a chaplain. I have baptized dead babies—some no bigger than the palm of my hand. Not as a Baptist; it is not a part of our faith. But as a chaplain; it is pastoral care.
I’ve stood next to a young girl and helped to wipe away blood and brain matter dripping from her ear onto her lifeless body, after she shot herself in the head because life was too hard and she needed a way out.
I’ve stood in front of police officers dressed in riot gear and attempting to control a possible riot within the hospital walls, because a young man’s life was taken too soon as a result of gang violence—while trying to provide pastoral care to the family members.
I’ve held an 80-year-old woman as she lay their head in my chest, having to say goodbye to her husband of 30 years.
I’ve sat on the floor with young children when they couldn’t move after learning their mom and dad died.
I’ve memorialized more team members in my last hospital that I care to remember, and if I never help to plan another memorial service for a friend/coworker it will be too soon.
I’ve grown from chaplain to family for patients who literally could not leave their room for years.
These are just one or two stories, and just from back home in New York state. I have countless experiences. Some good—and some not so good. Too many to share in a single blog. My experiences have taught me a few things:
1. Life is precious. I try to love as much as I can.
2. While I carry the pain of all of my patients, and each has left a permanent imprint on my heart, I don’t know what it’s like to be them. I was with some of them almost daily, but I am not them. I learned to listen. I learned to empower, to work with them to support. Not to tear down and say, “Well, my loved one died too….” Or “Yes, that happened to me today.” Each time I listened, I learned, and we grew together. They helped me to become a better minister, chaplain and person. When people are in pain, listen.
3. I am a Pollyanna. I am not a naive one, but nevertheless my Pollyanna side grew—and is growing—as a result of my calling as a chaplain. I see and feel the beloved community. I experience what I call raw ministry. I see the worst in people, and I see who they can become. But in order for a person to become who they are called to be, they have to be willing to face their dark side.
The hour has come. We can either build together, or perish as fools.
Reverend Angel L. Sullivan is an American Baptist Churches-USA ordained minister serving as an Endorsed, Board Certified Chaplain. For one year during her seminary experience, she served as American Baptist Women’s Ministries (ABWM) intern, helping the board to learn about issues important to young women. From 2012-2015, she served as an adult member of the American Baptist GIRLS National Leadership Team and led ABWM’s “Transformed by the Spirit” Action Learning Team, which addressed ABWM’s challenge to engage younger generations of women in its ministries. Angel served as the National President of ABWM form 2015-2018, when she was part of a team of women that traveled to the Republic of Georgia to engage in an ecumenical learning experience with Georgian Muslim Women and Georgian Baptist Women. She presently serves as one of several Network Liaisons for Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors with the American Baptist Home Mission Society.
We want to hear your story. Your story is my story. Help us empower other women by sharing your story.