Called to Presence
I got a chance to catch up with Marie King, a nurse, chaplain, and deacon, to ask her about her career and calling.
Marie, tell us about your call to ministry.
Marie: I felt called to become a nurse when I was a preschooler. I told my parents about my plans at the young age of four or five! My father was a United Methodist pastor and had a very caring attitude. I remember visiting with him and going to the hospital with him. I did not go into the rooms, but I remember how my father responded to people coming for physical healing. l never really saw myself as a pastor but as a person in health care. I knew that being a nurse was my ministry.
As part of the Parish Nurse Ministry at my local church I planned times for monthly blood pressure screenings for the parishioners. People would start to talk to me while I took their blood pressure. They’d talk about going to the doctor and ask me what questions they should ask. I spent time explaining their medications to them, and slowly people requested that I come to the hospital to visit or pray with them. Oftentimes, I would minister to them, their families, and friends by helping everyone understand what was happening.
I began to realize God was leading me to something new—taking blood pressures was just the catalyst, an opportunity for people to sit down and talk. People began to share with me, and I found that it was easier for them to talk to a health care provider than to a clergyperson or friend about their health care concerns.
My ministry has grown into offering workshops, seminars, healing services, health fairs, and home visitations. I help empower the congregation on what health care is supposed to be and help ask the right questions. People begin to feel more comfortable about going to the hospital when they have someone to call on if they don’t understand. People now feel they can call me not only about medical questions but also about spiritual concerns.
My presence in the congregation also assists new pastors during those first home visits. I let the pastors know to talk more in Sister Jones’s left ear because she is hard of hearing or to kneel down and speak when someone doesn’t see well.
In Parish Nurse Ministry there are many different ways to be in ministry. You empower laity and clergy about what Health Ministry should look like. Health care is not just going to the doctor and getting medications—it includes looking at the socioeconomics of the parish. It helps people be part of the body of Christ and the fellowship, connecting health and spirituality.
I began to understand my call to utilize my gifts in health care as part of the ministry of a deacon. At times when I slowed down, I would feel a nudge to push forward. I knew I was where God wanted me to be. When I felt like it wasn’t the right time or that I didn’t have time to study, God always provided me with time, resources, and the energy to keep going.
What does your new work as a hospital chaplain mean for you as a minister and Christian?
Marie: In 2002 I was still in nursing, doing chaplaincy work on weekends. I had completed a Clinical Pastoral Education unit, and I felt led to apply for an internship. I was surprised when I was accepted into the program. This study time helped me understand the role of chaplain.
One day a member of the executive team at the hospital said, “We have a patient requesting a chaplain, but the chaplain is off campus. Can you go visit?” I said, “Sure, I can.” The experience allowed me to share in a moment of suffering, to hold a hand, and to be the presence of Christ.
Sometimes you visit someone who is not a member of the Christian faith but still seeking. Praying with them can give them a sense of peace, help them make decisions about treatment, and relax them. These times show me how valuable a chaplain is in a health care setting. You don’t have to say anything; you just need to be there. And the more I was just there (present), the clearer the call to chaplaincy became. I didn’t wake up one morning thinking, I’ll be a chaplain. It has been a gradual leading; being a chaplain began to feel natural to me. God using me to glorify his name by helping provide comfort to someone or his or her family, or even the hospital staff. I also rejoice with the staff in good times.
Was there ever a time you questioned your call, and how was your faith in Christ strengthened?
Marie: I feel passionate about being a chaplain now, but it really was a gradual process. It wasn’t an overnight realization, a bolt of lightning, or a lightbulb going off in my head. There were times when I thought, Nah, this is not the ministry I am supposed to be involved in. Then God would show me, would confirm to me, that this is where I am supposed to be. I said I would never preach, but I’ve had opportunities that I couldn’t turn down to preach or share a message. Each time I say I’m never going to do something, God shows me otherwise. God gives me an audience, or directs me to places and people where God’s message should be delivered.
What do you do for fun, on your day off, for Sabbath? What practices do you have to keep your life balanced?
Marie: I used to be the type of person who couldn’t say no, but in the past several years I began asking myself, “What is really the most important thing at this time that I need to be doing? What is God calling me to do at this time?” And then I leave everything else alone. I intentionally take time off to do some things at home, or to do nothing. I enjoy reading inspirational books, relaxing, and meditating. I like visiting with friends, spending time away from work and home, where I don’t have to worry about cooking!
I participate in a prayer group. We enjoy each other’s company and ask each other, “Where have you seen Christ since the last time we were together? How did that make a difference in your life?” We hold each other accountable.
I’ve also become more active. I bought a bike and am riding it in the park. Being outside and listening to the sounds of nature refreshes my spirit. Bike-riding gives me time away from the beeps, alarms, and medical terms. Even at work I will step outside to listen to the quiet.
So what books are you reading?
Marie: I read many journals at work, so I turn to inspirational books at home. Currently, I am reading The Noticer: Sometimes, All a Person Needs Is a Little Perspective by Andy Andrews with a group at church. This book speaks to why things happen and what we can do about it. Another favorite is Praying for Strangers by River Jordan, a book about the author’s New Year’s resolution to pray for a stranger every day.
In a hospital setting I want to provide the ministry of presence, meeting people where they are. At first, I didn’t know what to say to them or pray for them, now I take my lead from the person, leaving room for the Holy Spirit.
We don’t like silence, but sometimes people just want you to be there silently and hold their hand. They will remember how you made them feel while you were with them, not what you said.
I encourage anyone to follow your heart, where you feel God is leading you. A popular route may not be the best route for you. Instead, God may be leading you to be a trailblazer, to open a path for others. We see people go into a field because they can get a job with good pay, and while that might be well and good, I strongly feel that the nursing profession is a call. Everyone wants to be successful, but what we feel in our soul is important. “What about this job helps me give praise to God?” Rather than looking for any type of recognition or status, I encourage people to ask, “What can bring glory to God? Where can I serve?”
I thank God everyday for the many people who crossed my path, who have encouraged and inspired me, and who helped me get to where I am today. We can’t get there on our own. God has brought me through life experiences that helped mold me, and he has put people in my life so that I may glorify him.