Wandering around the hospital I’ve been known to cause confusion because I wear my collar open. If it wasn’t for my name badge a lot of people would be unaware that I’m a hospital chaplain.
When I approach a patient I usually have the standard set of questions, what’s your name, where are you from, how long are you in? Because I’m wearing black I presume most people know what I’m doing - even if I don’t! Unfortunately some of the older patients don’t have good eyesight and I have to stop them in their tracks before they give me a rundown of their medical complaints. Although even when I tell them I’m a priest they not only give me a rundown of their medical complaint but also their medical and social history.
I remember meeting a man on a few occasions last year on one of the wards when he was in visiting a relation. Passing him on the corridor I had said hello and nodded but it had always been a brief exhange. It wasn’t until a few days later when I met him at the bedside of his relative that he recognised me as a priest.
He spoke and explained how he saw me flying in and out of the ward but when he saw the name badge he presumed I was a taxi man on business for the hospital.
As I told this story to some of the junior doctors at the Altnagelvin Summer Ball last Friday night, one of our company told a similar story heard in another hospital. It concerned a surgeon who liked to dress casually and on occasion would wear black when doing his rounds in the hospital.
On one occasion as he was checking on a patient who was Intensive Care after theatre the nurse or the junior doctor was new and didn’t recognise the consultant and thought he was a chaplain.
When he enquired how the patient was doing he got a rather general response along the lines off, ‘Well, she’s very sick, don’t think the operation was too successful’. To which the bemused surgeon replied: ‘I know I was there, I performed the operation.’ Not sure how the conversation finished after that but I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall.
In a world so caught up at times on appearances, image and looks, the celebration of Pentecost points us in the right direction. We all have to look inward and deeper if we what to recognise the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is revealed and recognised in God’s people the Church. In generations past and in the men and women of the Christian community today we find abundant witnesses to the presence of the Spirit of God. We know and have seen and heard of lives transformed and changed radically through the gift of God.
Yet we have to stop looking outwards towards others until we can open our own hearts and minds to the presence of God within.
We encounter God in the sacraments, through his Word, through each other as a baptised people but it is essential that we take seriously our role in building up God’s Kingdom.
Above all the Holy Spirit strengthens us to be God’s witnesses in the world. He unites us as a people forming the one Body of Christ.
The gift of the Spirit breaks down the barriers between people enabling us to share in the ‘one bread and the one cup’. It is the Spirit who helps us to recognise one another as God’s family, brothers and sisters in Christ. The common language which we’re asked to share is the experience of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
The Spirit is God’s life within us, if this life is truly alive then we will become more Christ-like and no matter how we dress or how we look, the world will recognise us as followers of Jesus Christ through our actions, in the way we relate to one another. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, God’s dwelling place and ultimately, through our care, support and encouragement of our family, friends and neighbours, people will understand who we are and what we believe in and whose life flows through our veins.