It was the Rev. John Ri’s first visit to Good Samaritan Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and the sight of tiny “Baby Gabriel,” born at 36 weeks and in an incubator with heart and breathing monitors and intravenous tubes, initially startled him.
“It may be difficult for me to visit here. My heart is hurt,” said Ri, 48, a transitional deacon and the director of a shelter for homeless families in Seoul, South Korea.
He and the Rev. Cyprian Mun-Young Kim had just picked up their identification badges, donned blue chaplain smocks and begun to visit patients for the first time Sept. 17. They were welcomed enthusiastically in Korean by fifth-floor charge nurse Mimi Jung.
“She’s very glad to see Korean chaplains,” explained translator Younghee Witham, “because about one-third of the patients here are Korean or Korean American.”
The chaplains are part of a mutually beneficial partnership between the Los Angeles diocese and the Anglican Diocese of Korea. For 20 weeks Ri and Kim, 37, rector of St. Columba’s Church in Osan, a Seoul suburb, will be chaplain interns, extending pastoral care to patients and learning more about diverse cultures and themselves in the process.
The partnership grew out of conversations between Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce and Archbishop Paul Kim, primate of the Anglican Church of Korea and Bishop of Seoul.
“Archbishop Kim visited us in the diocese prior to General Convention,” Bruce recalled during a recent telephone interview. “We discussed the possibility of bringing people here for an experience in clinical pastoral education (CPE), which doesn’t exist in Korea.
“They’ve come in pairs,” she added. “This is the second set of interns for this CPE program; the first two received an amazing benefit from it.”
The program is part of ongoing efforts to expand Korean ministry throughout the diocese, Bruce
“The need for Korean ministry in the diocese is evident,” she said. “It’s a matter of finding people to deploy and starting new congregations. We’re looking prayerfully throughout the Los Angeles and Orange County areas to see where we can expand.”
Compassionate listening, pastoral care
The Rev. Dr. Ron David, who began Good Samaritan’s CPE program about six years ago, meets with chaplain interns for both group and individual supervision, and also at other “sidewalk times” as needed, he said.
Essentially the interns function as hospital chaplains, and may be summoned for visits at the request of the patient, family or staff. Other times, pastoral care occurs spontaneously as they engage patients during visits to various hospital departments, including the emergency room, intensive care and general medical units.
Their role is to listen compassionately to patients, who may be facing surgery, terminal illness, health and other challenges. In the process, chaplains may aid patients in understanding or coming to terms with their own experiences, said David, who is also a medical doctor board-certified in pediatrics and neonatal/perinatal medicine.
David comes by his teaching role naturally; he was an assistant professor of pediatrics/obstetrics and gynecology at the University Health Center of Pittsburgh and later an instructor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Executive Leadership Program, from which he also graduated. He also served as chief medical officer for the District of Columbia Health and Hospitals Public Benefit Corporation.
A graduate of the Virginia Theological Seminary, he was ordained to the priesthood in 2006 and founded the CPE program at Good Samaritan.
“The interns serve 20 hours a week for 20 weeks — the standard 400 hours for one unit of CPE,” he said. Their training also includes in-service presentations and critical reading assignments in theology, psychology, pastoral care and other subjects. They are required to present “verbatims” and receive feedback about patient interactions.
At first the sessions were difficult, said Witham, the translator, a Korean American, who recently completed her fourth unit of CPE and hopes to be certified as a hospital chaplain. She was volunteering at the hospital when she met David, she said.
“Through him, I learned a lot about the Episcopal Church and dealing with different people, cultures, race and genders,” she said. “It broadened my perspective very much and helped me learn to express my feelings … At first, it was difficult to talk about them, but then time goes by and naturally they came out. Ron is a very good supervisor.”
The high Korean-speaking inpatient population makes the partnership all the more relevant, added Witham as she introduced Ri and Kim to hospital personnel Sept. 17. She serves as their translator and guide, as she did for the inaugural pair of Korean interns, Hannah Juehee Han and the Rev. Clara Yoon Sook Hahm.
“We had a fabulous time together,” David said of Han and Hahm. “They are extraordinary. Bishop Bruce and Bishop Kim thought, well, let’s continue this.”
CPE is required training for Episcopal clergy and both Ri and Kim said they hope their experiences will help to broaden their pastoral ministries and own self-awareness between now and Dec. 20, when the session concludes.
New skills, increased understanding
With Witham translating, Ri said he enjoys his work at the shelter in Seoul, begun by the church and funded by local government, which provides training and shelter to families in crisis for up to two years.
“I really wanted to learn more skills here,” he said. “Maybe I can understand myself more deeply, and others, too.”
Kim said he had already begun to notice differences between fast-paced Osan, a city of about 200,000, and what appeared to be a less hectic, more laid-back Los Angeles.
“There are lots of different cultures here — Hispanic, many different Asians. I want to experience the multicultural,” he added.
In addition to “new experiences, and a chance to experience the culture and people,” he regards the internship as a chance for the Seoul and Los Angeles dioceses to establish closer ties.
The experience proved invaluable for Hahm and Han, the program’s two previous interns, David said, and also helped broaden his own experiences working across cultural and language barriers.
“It’s one thing for me to try to engage meaningfully with persons of Hispanic origin; that’s a lifelong experience. I took Spanish in high school,” David said. “But the experience of the Asiamerican community is less familiar, more challenging. I’m trying to learn Korean.”
Hahm said that while she met mostly with Korean-speaking patients, she also “experienced love that is beyond language and many touching things” during her December 2011 – May 2012 internship.
One such encounter involved a Chinese woman in her 70s in the end stages of terminal cancer, she said.
“She could speak neither Korean nor English,” Hahm recalled in the email. “We communicated through facial expression. I would ask questions in English and she answered them in Chinese. She always smiled. I tried to learn Chinese through the Internet and to use it with her, but it was no use.”
Still, “we waited for each other as if we were mother and daughter,” she said. “When I visited her and prayed with my hand on her, she looked very happy and got well. So we were eager to pray together and got to praise God.”
CPE taught her a great deal about herself, Hahm added. “Through this program I met my inner self and wounds in my heart,” she said. “As I met them deeply, I could feel my external and visible problems being solved and inner power being stronger. So, I got more active and passionate in preaching the gospel and meeting the sick.”
David said that both Hahm and Han learned “self-confidence, self-awareness, and deeper faith, among their crowning accomplishments. I loved watching them grow in the knowledge and love of God … and themselves! Among the many things I learned (or had affirmed) was the power and imperative of deep listening — seeking not to be understood but to understand. Listening has become a important practice of contemplation for me.”
Hahm, now back in South Korea, said the experience empowered her to expand her ministry to hospital and prison visitations and “has taught me the way I love my neighbor as myself. I became more assured that God sometimes shows his love through my neighbor. So, I am not afraid of facing inner wounds and more confident that the Lord is working in and with us.”
Han, 30, a catechist and a candidate for holy orders, said that CPE also taught her “communication is beyond language.”
Now, after CPE, “when I work in ministry, I manage humbly and confidently; every moment I try to look for God’s will.”