Holy Ground: A Volunteer and Graduate Student’s Experiences of Unexpected Grace

By Laura Shrode, former Colorado Vincentian Volunteer

“As others allow you into the most tender places in their lives, you will know you are standing on holy ground, and you will find yourself touched, humbled, and gladdened by unexpected grace.” –Sharyl Peterson

On one particular busy afternoon at my service site, Denver Urban Ministries, I met Cynthia (not her real name). My job was to sit with her, ask her some standard questions, fill out paperwork and then assist her to our food pantry. That is the bare minimum. One of the best things about Denver Urban Ministries is their emphasis on quality over quantity. Though the lobby was bursting with people and we were short-staffed, the organizational leadership taught me to be present to the person in front of me. And so it was that I heard Cynthia’s story. Through tears and mumbles, she shared her struggles and fears.  I sat and listened.  I tried to acknowledge her struggles and let her vocalize the pain and the fear she had been feeling, but had been afraid to speak. It appeared as if this were the first time she had been able to mention these struggles aloud. 

Three years later, I do not remember the specifics of our conversation, but I have not forgotten what it felt like to be standing on Holy Ground. What a beautifully, powerful place to be! This conversation with Cynthia was one of the crucial moments that led me on my journey to Saint John’s School of Theology to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. My journey at Saint John’s has allowed me to travel many paths filled with unexpected grace. Many of these moments have come from my time as an intern and a chaplain at a local hospital.

My learning experience so far as a hospital chaplain has taught me to expect the unexpected.  When I enter a patient’s room or respond to a trauma, I have only the slightest idea of what I am getting myself into.  In some cases, the patient is alone sitting in his chair watching The Price is Right. Other times, several family members are present, with remnants of snacks and blankets from the one who stayed overnight with their loved one sprawled across the small space. At another moment, in a moment of trauma, I may enter a sea of organized chaos. The lights are bright, a few white coats are in the room and several other medical staff members dance around the patient in the hospital bed. I am always impressed by how the medical staff have mastered the dance of chaos. So many beeps from different machines, so many bodies trying to do chest compressions, trying to bring in the right medications, trying to do whatever they can to keep the patient alive and comfortable. Most times the dance is beautiful. Somehow the medical team knows their roles and where they need to be to not get in the way of one another. I try to stand near the head of the patient, to let her know that she is not alone. Or I will be directed to where the family is waiting. There we will sit and pray, pace, and share stories.

I am learning to appreciate the many surprises. Sometimes I am surprised by the medical situation – the biology degree in me is constantly fascinated with some of the crazy things I have witnessed. Sometimes I am surprised by the stories I hear – stories of pain, grief, loneliness, joy, hope and love. Many older patients have given me advice on how to live a good life, how to have a happy marriage, and how to keep the faith.

I value these stories because I recognize that in listening to them, I am standing (or sitting usually) on Holy Ground. The patients or family members are allowing me to enter into their lives, even if just for a few brief moments. I am able to share in the joys and blessings of a new birth or the sadness and confusion when someone hears difficult news. I find “unexpected grace” in seeing Christ in the hospital bed before me. How lucky am I that I get to encounter the many faces of Christ on a daily basis? I truly am humbled by these experiences.

My time at Saint John’s School of Theology has led me to other ministry work as well.  I am the new Recruitment Coordinator for the Benedictine Women Service Corps volunteer program. I now have the opportunity to encourage others to seek out ways to encounter that “unexpected grace.” This position allows me to connect with female college students interested in service and help them discern where their path is taking them.  I anticipate, with excitement, that they will have their own experiences of unexpected grace on holy ground.

Laura Shrode was a full-time volunteer with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers in Denver, Colorado 2012-2013. She now is a full-time graduate student at Saint John’s School of Theology (Collegeville, MN) working towards a Master of Divinity with plans for hospital chaplaincy. She also works as the Recruitment Coordinator for the Benedictine Women Service Corps.

To learn more about St. John’s School of Theology and their scholarships for volunteers, please click here

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