Being ‘The God Guy’: The Value of Spiritual Care

spiritual care

This reflection on spiritual care was written by The Rev. Dr. Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community. You will find reflections from previous weeks here.

Dear colleagues,

A couple of weeks ago I took a few hours to make my first visit to the Port of Montreal. It’s easy for us land-based types to forget this, but Montreal’s port is among the busiest in North America. Montreal is as far up the St. Lawrence River as many ocean-going ships can come. It’s a hinge point between the ocean and, through the St. Lawrence Seaway, the entire Great Lakes system, which only certain kinds of ships can travel.

I was there because I had long been meaning to pay a visit to the Ministry to Seafarers, a chaplaincy that pays special attention to those whose work lives take place on the water. For the last couple of summers, this has been a placement site for the Montreal Mission Internship, and I wanted to see it for myself. Sure enough, before too long I found myself on board a massive ocean-going container ship watching the giant cranes load up new containers for a voyage to Amsterdam, all while chatting and learning more about the lives and work of the 20 or so crew members, virtually all of whom are from India.

The Anglican Church of Canada has dedicated this week to be Spiritual Care Awareness Week. It’s a time when the church is meant to give thanks and pray for the work of spiritual care practitioners, who in many settings are called chaplains. While a person in congregational ministry may understand their ministry as directed towards all people in a neighbourhood, a key feature of the work of chaplaincy is that it is dedicated to a group of people united by their membership in a shared institution or profession such as a prison, a hospital, a university, a military unit, or, indeed, a ship. If you follow this link, you can find a resource guide the church has produced that offers some reflections on spiritual care and resources for the week.

My experience of chaplaincy is limited to health care and to higher education. While I did not discern a call to full-time ministry in those areas, one thing I remember loving about this kind of work was being the person who could, not inappropriately, be labelled “the god guy.” In other words, it was my job to be part of that particular community and, by my presence, testify to the reality that there was something more beyond this community life, that spiritual and religious values undergirded what we did together (even if we didn’t always realize it), and that I was a person to talk with about this.

I give thanks for chaplains and other spiritual care providers and pray for the flourishing of their ministry.

Faithfully yours,

Jesse Zink