by Rev. Susan Halvor
Editors Note: Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the second in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.
At a recent staff meeting of hospital chaplains, I asked that we each share about times when we felt welcomed or included, or when we did not – the stories were powerful!
One person shared that after a life of moving from place to place and always feeling like an outsider, finally they were being truly welcomed into a small Alaskan community, so much so that the community rallied to find this person a (rare) winter job.
Another spoke of the process of slowly breaking into the tight-knit Emergency Department culture: first ignored, then referred to as “chaplain,” and finally the moment when the nurses actually knew this chaplain by name.
Or the one who spoke about visiting the back areas of Laboratory Services for the first time and being celebrated as the much-loved chaplain who prays enthusiastically over the intercom in the mornings.
And, one person talked about offering ashes on Ash Wednesday in an administrative section of the hospital, and, after many refusals, came across a woman who wept and said “you have no idea how much I needed you to come by right now.”
As we shared our own stories of vulnerability and welcome, I thought about how vulnerable it feels to be a patient, to be cut off from your “normal” life and activities and community.
And I thought about how each of us on our team has felt “other,” and the ways that has informed our ministries. In our department, we are straight, lesbian, queer and transgender. We are African, Indian, Caucasian, Nicaraguan, Alaska Native, African American and Scottish.
As a queer Lutheran hospital chaplain and pastor, I often feel like I don’t quite fit in many of the spaces I inhabit. The Proclaim community helps me feel a sense of belonging; but I also realize that that sense of “otherness” actually connects me to the people I serve here at the hospital – patients, their loved ones, the hospital staff who care for them and the hospital staff that keep this operation running.
My own experiences of vulnerability, my own wondering, “Will you still love me if you truly know me?” helps me better care for the child who has just been diagnosed with diabetes, the Hmong teenager who has experienced the death of a parent or sibling; the transgender patient whose anxiety increases with every new person who walks through the door; the patient with a traumatic brain injury and their partner, looking ahead to a completely different life; the patient whose opioid addiction and mental illness makes it difficult to develop a safe discharge plan.
It’s the best job in the world – I get to care for patients and their loved ones, hear incredible stories, support staff, and teach about my passions (compassion, cross-cultural communication, resilience, grief education, and more). Every day is different, and it is a gift to follow this call.
After 11 years as a Children’s Hospital Chaplain at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, Susan Halvor is now the manager of the Spiritual Care Department and has to sneak away to spend the time she loves with patients and their families. When she’s not at work, she’s happiest playing outdoors in Alaska with her dog Jack, wrangling her two cats, line dancing or eating ice cream. Some of these activities have been known to happen at the same time! She also enjoys serving as one of the chaplains to the Proclaim community.