The pastors of The Falls Church Anglican staff rotate being on call for emergencies and for visiting people who are in the hospital. Today I had both responsibilities and a full slate of people who had the unexpected happen. I have colleagues who are Oscar-winners at this kind of thing, the type of priests anyone would want to visit and whose very steps bless a hospital floor. I continue to try to improve this part of my craft. Whenever I visit people in the hospital I’m reminded of the power in just being present to someone.
I saw a good friend, a young man, who had come into the hospital with a burst appendicitis. This initial emergency transmogrified into days of doctor-stumping infection. When I came he had been in the hospital for several days and was understandably tired. This friend carries himself with a deep kindness, and I was struck by how this characteristic continued even after a night of much pain and no sleep. I doubt I could have been that gracious in similar circumstances.
I spoke with a family whose son needed emergency surgery earlier in the week. This teenager was well enough now to be on the cusp of discharge, and he was already itchy to get out and about (even to church on Sunday). I joked with his mother that this was a good problem to have, a son who wanted to go to church even after major surgery.
Then I visited an older gentlemen in our church who had fallen earlier in the week. He was in a lot of pain after some needed physical therapy. Getting to be with this man for a few minutes amidst this difficulty, to pray for him, encourage him, make sure his family and doctors knew how he was doing, was a privilege. He had been in the hospital several days and was in a “between” place; about to be sent from the hospital to rehabilitation. He was not going home, but to another health care facility, one he needed. It meant he had a long road ahead of him, and if I were him it would have felt lonely.
For me visiting people in the hospital is a strong reminder that we are flesh and bones, here for a very short time. The courage I witness during these visits instructs me more than I deserve. So often people want to welcome me and hear how I’m doing, even as they lie prostrate in a mechanical bed wearing clothes that are less than form-fitting.
One way to translate the name Levi, from which we get the word ‘Levites’, the priests of Israel, is “connect.” I love that summary of my job as a priest; to connect God to people and people to God. To be a bridge.
God dropped me in for a short time to be a bridge for this older gentleman that day, to remind him that amidst the disorientedness of hospitals he was okay. God was with him. It was not rocket science but it was a chance to do good work.
Dean Miller is a husband, a father of three, and a priest at The Falls Church Anglican. A graduate of Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. he loves a good book, ice cream, walks instead of car rides, all sports, and any great story. He can be reached at [email protected].