“It’s all about presence and availability”
An Interview with Sharlene Henderson – CAMA Woodlands Chaplain
“It’s all about presence and availability”
Rev. Sharlene Henderson is the chaplain at CAMA Woodlands Nursing Home in Burlington, Ontario. She served as a pastor at an Alliance Church for many years before switching over to chaplaincy two years ago. As evidenced in the dialogue below the idea of chaplaincy was not a stirring from within. Someone invited her – literally invited her to come and see – and then to pray.
Gerard Barabash is Chair of the Central Canadian District (CCD) chapter of the Association of Alliance Chaplains (AAC). Gerard recently visited Sharlene at CAMA Woodlands.
You were a church pastor before. How is being a chaplain different? Or is it the same?
As a pastor, my role was to equip others to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world in which we live. Here, where the church is no longer welcomed, I am his hands and feet. One thing that both roles have in common is that we seek to honor and glorify Jesus in all that we say and do.
What have you had to change/leave behind or learn?
I had to leave my church based missions focused evangelism skills behind. But by relying on God, versus what I am able to bring, people have been saved healed and renewed by his power and grace. The Holy Spirit evangelizes and I only need to be present.
When did chaplaincy first come into consideration and how did you discern the calling?
My predecessor and I were in times of transition. When the District Superintendent first asked me to think about the chaplain job at CAMA Woodlands I was not overly excited about it. However, once I prayed and came in for a visit with the residents and staff, God seemed to make it abundantly clear that this was the assignment He had for me. I am still learning to articulate what a chaplain is and what they can do for those who do not have any faith background.
What is your ongoing discernment like?
Each morning I set aside time with the Lord before even entering CAMA. I intentionally take time to rest in Him, to be patient and to create space for Him to speak and for me to listen. I prayerfully invite the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me throughout the day as well as spend time in His life giving Word. Quite often I am given the opportunity to use the very words I just read in situations I get called into.
What would you say to encourage someone to consider chaplaincy?
Chaplaincy is not for the faint of heart. It really is all about presence and availability. I am a visible reminder of God through my presence and in my involvement in the lives of those who have been entrusted to my care. You need to have a heart of compassion with a mind willing to struggle with the deep emotional and theological questions that arise in the midst of crisis. I best describe chaplains as first responders drawn into or energized by the exposure of crises versus being disturbed or drained by them.
How do you deal with exposure to sadness loneliness grief and death?
That is still a work in progress. Understanding that death and grief are part of the life process helps me as I help others cope. For those I know are Christians, the process can be celebratory knowing there will be a reunion some day. For others, it makes me mindful of the urgency to ensure they have been given an opportunity to surrender their lives to God.
What do you get to celebrate?
I have had the privilege of having people come to faith, and being baptized, because faith was stirred and the Divine encountered through a funeral. I experience people wanting to know Jesus. And I get invited into some of the most intimate moments in people’s lives. But most importantly I see the Spirit of God at work in the lives of residents and workers.
How has your spiritual health/resilience/journey been impacted?
The greatest impact has been learning from personal experience. I have become more attuned to and in pursuit of things that matter most (faith, family). I have a deep desire to finish well until that last breath is taken. I realize more than ever that apart from God I can do nothing – other than to accept His invitation to be used as one of His instruments to further His Kingdom work in this world.
I want to graciously thank Sharlene for telling me and allowing me to share some of her story of discernment, transition, and discovery.
I would also like to remind all chaplains that the call to chaplaincy often (if not always) starts with an invitation from someone who understands the value of presence and availability and sees and envisions the potential in another. So let’s be attentive and available to who God might want us to invite someone to be his hands and feet in places that pastors may not be invited or able to go.