The soup kitchen I volunteer at is a Catholic Worker community, which doesn’t at all imply that the core community is composed exclusively of Catholics, let alone the outside volunteers. My walking friend, who runs the soup kitchen, says that some “Catholic Workers,” which is how he refers to the communities, have lots of Catholics involved and a strong religious orientation, and some don’t. A delightful young couple lived for a time at Thomas House (as I call it here) and worked at the soup kitchen. Then they went on an adventure in India, and now one of them is at a Catholic Worker in Ann Arbor. I plan to visit or even volunteer for a few hours the next time I go to Michigan.
I recently spoke to yet another chaplain, this one particularly warm and encouraging. Her job is .3 of a full-time job, but she says that’s perfect, because she is doing several other things. (One thing she did in the past several years was to develop and teach a bioethics class at Yale! I hope the profession of chaplaincy is ready for a major slacker, meaning me. I do not plan to develop anything.) Her job happens to be at the hospital where my parents get some of their care, right near their place in Ypsilanti. And it further happens that this chaplain’s boss is the head of the Association of Professional Chaplains committee that grants M.Div. equivalency to Buddhists, and said he’d be happy to talk to me. Marian (as I will call her here) also told me about two Buddhist meditation groups she attends, one in Ypsilanti and one in Ann Arbor.
It was rather striking to find all these resources right near my parents all at once: a new chaplain friend, the head of the equivalency committee, two meditation groups, and a Catholic Worker where I actually know someone. F. was displeased to hear of these developments; he’s afraid I’ll move away. (Per a recent survey, one third of Bay Area residents would like to leave in the next few years. If only we could have the people and businesses back which were pushed out.)
Marian emphasized the importance of self-care during clinical pastoral education. She also said the M.Div. requirements for Buddhists are changing: they are going to get much harder. She said I should, if possible, put in my application before I start CPE in June. That way, I could be considered as in progress under the current scheme, but when I told her my plan, she said it sounded perfect, which was a relief. I really don’t want to scramble to put together a detailed application in my last several weeks off.
Agonizing over whether to be a chaplain or to go back to my former company has abated and I am back to enjoying this time off as much as possible. Fretting was not a very fun pastime, and also, the scales are now tilting inexorably toward chaplaincy. One huge inducement is all the fantastic people I’m already meeting. In glaring contrast, I worked at my ex-company for 17 years and, while I met great people there and had good friends at work, I did not make a single friend that I saw outside work, though Rekha, from my last position, may prove to be an exception.
Besides the few treasured friends still (or again) with me from childhood, my closest friends have all appeared when I was doing something that meant a lot to me: working as the editor of a magazine for people in recovery, volunteering at the Bicycle Coalition or the soup kitchen, attending Howie’s meditation group, studying creative writing at San Francisco State, doing the Sati Center’s yearlong chaplaincy course. I look forward to making excellent friends in the coming years. Of the five chaplains I have lately done informational interviews with, four of them offered themselves as ongoing resources. Marian said she felt like quitting CPE three different times, and that I can call or email her if difficulties arise.
I am now thinking that I will certainly do the yearlong CPE program starting in the fall, and after that, instead of getting a part-time hospice job that forces me to get a car, I will take the year off! (Why didn’t I think of this before?!) I will devote that year to education and volunteering, and have in mind a low-residency two-year program in New Mexico and a school in Berkeley right near BART. Marian said units from both of these places are directly accepted by the Association of Professional Chaplains, so one doesn’t have to demonstrate equivalency. After the first year, I should be able to get a part-time or three-quarters time job as a hospital chaplain somewhere in this country. It doesn’t have to be here. I’ve decided to have an adventure.
Or it still may be that I totally hate the whole thing by the end of summer, or that something else happens that changes everything completely. Anything may happen. Very exciting!