A new hospital ministry in a pandemic

Linda Moore is a third-year student in the Master of Divinity program. Before coming to Dio, she had a career as a lab tech at a hospital. This summer, in the midst of a global pandemic, she returned to that work on a part-time basis. She writes about what she is learning from combining her studies, her parish placement, and her work in a hospital.

I want to share with you my experience of training for ministry while at the same time working in a hospital during this COVID-19 pandemic. I believe God is at work in my life providing me ministry opportunities I didn’t expect that are influencing discernment about the shape of my future vocation as an ordained priest. 

I live in northern Vermont and work per diem in a local hospital laboratory.  At the church where I am doing my field placement, one of the parishioners asked me how I measure my success as a lab tech.  I answered that I see every aspect of my lab work as a ministry to the patients, to give each of them the best patient care possible.  This includes training new lab techs to see the big picture of patient care, that those aren’t merely specimens they’re testing: lab techs should treat each specimen as if it’s a valued friend or family member.  The parishioner replied, “I see the connection between your lab career and your future career as a priest.  It’s your vision of ministry in treating people the best you can, your mission of compassionate care of people and your concern that those working with you have that same vision and mission; have you seen this connection before?” 

This connection was definitely an epiphany for me.  I had thought lab work and ministry are vastly different from one another.  Lab work can be stressful with emergency stat work and the constant pressure for a quicker turnaround time for all test results. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for reflection of any sort.  Life as a priest will have its own stressors with pastoral care, teaching and administrative duties, in addition to what most people perceive as our Sunday ministry.  Does God want me to keep my “secular” career as well as my new career as a priest?  I felt that when I left my full-time lab tech job in 2018 to study at Montreal Dio, God was calling me to leave that lab job behind, that He had “bigger” plans for me.

I felt very compartmentalized earlier this fall, wearing what I see as my various hats. Tonight, I’m a lab tech.  Today, I’m a student on Zoom or helping to lead worship.  Worries about COVID-19 have only increased this feeling.  I’ve discerned over the years of my formation process that I will be bivocational.  But how does God want me to be bivocational?  As a priest in a small parish and a lab tech?  As a lab tech and a hospital chaplain?  As a priest in a small parish and a veterinary chaplain?  I was feeling very anxious and a bit lost, cut off physically from Dio and my supportive cohort. 

I chose to get back into the lab work this summer for income to pay tuition for my third year.  I also saw it as a ministry to enable the lab techs there, who I knew had been under a lot of stress due to the pandemic, to take some much-needed vacation time.  It was tough adjusting to the fast pace of an eight-hour workday in a hospital lab after two years as a student.  I found myself soon in various discussions with my coworkers that I view as ministry opportunities.  On my first day in the lab, one told me he didn’t want to ever hear me talk about God and religion.  After assuring him that I was only there to do lab work, he has recently begun to ask me questions about God and religion.  Another tech tearfully poured her heart out to me about how overworked she is, that she is on the verge of burnout; just me taking the time to sit and really listen to her was what she needed that day.  Another coworker told me that he is a nihilist and will never believe in God, yet he sits with me at the end of shift almost every evening and wants to talk about the Bible and God.  It’s as if God has opened my eyes to see these ministry opportunities, even in my secular career.

I now feel that that the various aspects of my life are becoming integrated.  The coursework I’m doing at the college is flowing into the work I’m doing at my field placement and also into my hospital lab tech work.  This more integrated approach to life allows me to be less anxious and more open to God’s plan for my future bivocational career.  My mantra this year is: “Just breathe and do what you can do; God’s got this.”