For Deacon Chris Little, being a chaplain is more than a job, it’s an answer to prayer. Deacon Little serves at People of God Anglican Church in Lakewood, CO and is a part-time chaplain for Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge, CO. We recently sat down with him to learn more about his ministry as a hospital chaplain.
Why did you want to become a chaplain?
Chaplaincy is a late vocation for me. I went to seminary in Colorado in the 80s, thinking at the time that I would become a professor. Instead, I became a paralegal, and worked in that role for 21 years.
Then, in 2010, a round of lay-offs at my firm came, and I was suddenly without a job. I kept applying for banking and paralegal jobs, but nothing was coming through. I found myself praying:
“Lord, show me something that I can do for you in this last leg of my career.”
A few months later, I saw an ad for a chaplain job, and something clicked. With encouragement from my wife and an old Seminary professor, I applied and was accepted to a Clinical Pastoral Education program (CPE). Two weeks into the program, I knew this was God’s answer to my prayer.
What steps were necessary for you to become a chaplain?
To start, you have to have a master’s degree, which thankfully I already had. You also have to be ordained and endorsed by a church. I was ordained as a Deacon in AMIA a year ago. This not only fulfills the requirement to be a chaplain, but is also important because of the sacramental things I do.
Finally, you have to complete a CPE internship. After my first internship in a CPE program, I applied for residency at St. Anthony’s hospital in Lakeland, CO, which is a Level 1 trauma center. My official certification as a chaplain came in a few months ago from the Association of Professional Conservative Chaplains.
What do you do as a hospital chaplain?
To borrow a phrase from a recent PBS series, chaplains “lean into the pain.” Our ministry is really a ministry of presence. Like Job’s comforters, we sit with people during really trying times. We are actually trained to not say a whole lot. As one of my favorite professors said:
“Job’s comforters did their best work when they just sat with him in silence.”
Chaplains are trained to listen well, and to ask open ended questions. In my own ministry, I’ve found that the comment I most receive is “thank you for listening.” It is a healing thing for lots of people.
Chaplaincy undertakes a very patient centered approach, helping people figure out for themselves how to use the resources they have. For some, this will include their Christian faith and community, but we are trained to be chaplains for everybody regardless of their faith.
We make sure that the patient feels comfortable, and I’ll often tell them “I’m the only guy you can throw out of the room.”
How does AMIA support your chaplaincy?
AMIA has ordained me and endorsed me for chaplaincy. Additionally, Father Chris Bollegar supports me as my regional vicar. He and I have a pastor to pastor relationship. Father Chris will call to touch base with me from time to time and check in on how I’m doing.
What advice do you have for someone who feels a call to become a chaplain?
As a chaplain, you will see a lot of suffering, a lot of bad stuff. You need to take care of yourself. One of the great things about chaplaincy culture is that self-care is really important. Everyone looks out for each other, checking in on how your day or week has been.
You will see dead babies, cancer, alcoholism, and people despairing. But you will also see people rejoicing and growing through their suffering. You’ll learn from them! It is a blessing to get to minister to people who are dying well. This can be a very humbling and joy inducing part of the job.
You will also learn a lot about yourself. CPE teaches you how to sit back and assess how you reacted to a patient. This is a great skill for both chaplains and pastors. You can’t be a good pastor if you don’t know yourself. Self-awareness and self-knowledge are just as important in the hospital as in the parish.
How do you practice self-care?
I dabble with music, and play the guitar and mandolin. I fly-fish and hike. I cook with my wife.
Most importantly, I pray. A life of prayer is indispensable in this. You have to rely on God. You have to thank him for the good days and rely on Him to get through the bad.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a chaplain?
My biggest challenge is the steady diet of seeing a lot of bad stuff. I think a lot about my own mortality. What am I going to do when I die?
What is the best part of being a chaplain?
The reaction from people who are so glad you came. When they thank you for listening and for being there. That is why I keep doing it! I am so thankful God opened this up for me in my later years, and that I have the chance to serve Him and serve others.
If you are interested in being affiliated with AMIA in your chaplaincy, contact Father Gavin Pate at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Ana Glass