“So What Are You Doing Here?” The Role of the Minister of the Gospel in Hospital Visitation, or a Theological Cure for the Crisis in Evangelical Pastoral Care -- By: Michael A. Milton

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 46:3 (Sep 2003)
Article: “So What Are You Doing Here?” The Role of the Minister of the Gospel in Hospital Visitation, or a Theological Cure for the Crisis in Evangelical Pastoral Care
Author: Michael A. Milton


“So What Are You Doing Here?” The Role of the Minister of the Gospel in Hospital Visitation, or a Theological Cure for the Crisis in Evangelical Pastoral Care

Michael A. Milton

[Michael Milton is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, 554 McCallie Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37402.]

I. A Modern Parable of Pastoral Visitation of the Sick

Here is a true story-a parable, if you will-about a freshly minted minister’s experiencing his first charge.1 I will not use the real name here, but the new minister was serving as a chaplain at a large metropolitan hospital. On one of his first calls, he went in to see a newly admitted patient who was to have surgery that day. Dressed in clerical attire-his uniform of the day-he arrived in that patient’s room without any guesswork as to who he was. The patient, a middle age man, frowning as he watched the freshly minted minister stroll in, looked right in the eyes of the chaplain and barked out, “Yeah, Chaplain, can I help you?”

The minister replied, “I am a hospital chaplain.” The patient lowered himself back into the covers. “I figured that much, Chaplain.” The grumpy patient then recovered a bit and sat up.

“Chaplain, tell me something.. .. This morning, the surgeon who will perform my surgery came in. He marked me all up on my chest where he plans to cut away at my breastbone to get at my heart. I knew why he was here. Then, in came a nurse. She hooked me up to these I.V.s. I knew why they were here. A little lady came in shortly before you arrived to fix me up with a bedpan, if I needed it. Now, I even know why she was here. But, Chaplain, the question I have of you and every other fellow like you in that dog collar is this: ‘What in the _____ are you doing here?’“

Our clerical friend said that he stood there for a second that seemed like an eternity. Then, it came out almost automatically: “Actually, I am here because God sent me to see you.”

He had not planned to say that and had no idea, really, what one should say at such a time as that. Years later, the minister would confess that it was actually one of the most profound things he had ever said but it was uttered in abject fear and with no one else around to hear it except that perturbed patient!

The chaplain’s prophetic response, though, hit the man hard. It was the right answer.

O.K., Chaplain, O.K., I guess I get it. All right, so I know why you are here. Pardon me for putting it the way I did, but, I am the Chief of Psychiatry at this hospital and for thirty years I have always wonder...

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