By Joseph G. Bozzelli
Almost on a daily basis, a friend of mine remarks how he feels so privileged to be a chaplain. His enthusiasm is infectious because he’s so passionate about his ministry. What makes his attitude even more inspiring for me is that he’s 80 years old! His spirit reminds me that, as chaplains, we often feel that we get so much more back than we give. It really is a privilege to be in this profession, to be instruments of God’s love to those in need.
But I realize that the benefits go far deeper than day-to-day satisfaction. In many ways, the person that I’ve become and strive to be has been shaped by chaplaincy. In all humility, I hope that I’m a good person, that I’m using the gifts that God has given me to care for others. I’d like to believe that had I chosen another profession, I would have had the same focus to my life, but I’m not certain. I do believe, however, that the experiences and opportunities that I’ve had through chaplaincy have shaped my life in a deeply positive way.
It starts with the training that it takes to be a chaplain. I don’t know if I would have looked as deeply into my life, striving to understand myself and how I relate to others, if it hadn’t been for my CPE training. I joked after my first unit of CPE that as a result of so much inward focus, I started questioning why I said “hello” rather than “hi” to my friends, but in truth, CPE has given me valuable insights for personal and professional growth.
As a certified chaplain, the opportunities of service within our organization and as a member of the Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care Team have been such a blessing to me. It has been so rewarding to serve on certification committees to support and encourage chaplains on their professional journey. Helping people in times of crisis through the Red Cross has not only broadened my awareness of national disasters and tragedies, but gave me the opportunity to extend God’s healing love to our community in time of need.
But the biggest impact has been through my ministry to hospital patients and staff. To journey with patients, at often the worst moment in their life, or support a staff member as they sort through professional and personal challenges, has truly been a sacred privilege. I hope I’ve been of some support in those moments, but what I have received in return has been the real gift. It is indeed humbling when people allow you to share their most intimate moments, and in that encounter, to experience firsthand how they live their lives in hope and faith in a loving God. By sharing their faith, they have nurtured and guided my faith journey, as well.
Although I’m not sure what other direction my life might have taken, I know that my journey with God to be the person God has called me to be has been enriched by this ministry. For that, I give God thanks. And I know in my heart that my friend is right. It is truly a privilege to be a chaplain, for in giving I have been so very blessed by what I’ve received.
Joseph G. Bozzelli, D.Min., BCC, is director of pastoral care services at St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Edgewood, KY.