Chaplaincy in Harper’s

John Crowley writes in Harper’s: “Works of Mercy: The Power of Pastoral Care” [paywalled]:

I met Susan Harris when my now adult daughter returned to Children’s for a procedure that turned out to entail far more time and anxiety than had been forecast. The situation called upon all of those watchful waiting skills L. had learned in the early years of motherhood, and which in time she has used on my and her own behalf as well. We hadn’t named a religious preference at admittance this time either, but the rabbi noticed that on a floor under her purview was someone who’d been there over a month. Any patient who’s been in a hospital room for a month, Harris thought, needed a visit. She was welcome; she was a civilian, someone outside the medical team taking an interest; my daughter was glad to talk about nonmedical matters, just talk. We all needed the company.

Later on, in the cubbyhole office she shares with a large printer, Harris took time to talk to me about her role. A compact, cheerful woman, and a mother herself, she lives near enough to bike to work. She’s an ordained rabbi, with an advanced degree in Judaic studies, but a “pulpit-free” one, she says. “I don’t consider anybody I see a member of my congregation. That word implies a certain relationship. As a congregant you expect something from your clergy, you expect leadership. To the extent that I do any leading, I lead from behind. For Jewish families it’s actually an advantage that I’m not a pulpit rabbi; I don’t push anybody’s buttons—I don’t see them as absent from my pews—and that makes a difference to me.”

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