Being a Pagan chaplain within a dominant Christian environment is tough and presents unique challenges. Seeing as I’m the only Pagan chaplain on staff, I don’t have anyone to talk to who understands exactly what I’m going through. This is no reflection on my colleagues, but I want a safe space where I can write out what I experience, what I think and feel without having to censor myself. So I’m going to start writing about my experiences here to help process them, reflect and, hopefully, find some strategies and answers. Or maybe not. I hope so anyway.
It’s exhausting at times, and after my last shift this past weekend, I’m feeling it. What’s the feeling exactly? It’s tiring to feel compelled to monitor everything you say, to feign interest in Christian minutiae and to worry I’ll be “outed” as Pagan. Yes, I’m sure part of my problem is that I do worry about this too much. My chaplain colleagues know I’m Pagan, and they support me. But patients and other hospital staff do not. When they meet me, they project onto me whatever their own particular brand of Christianity is because of Christian privilege. It never enters into their mind that a chaplain might think differently or practice a non-monotheistic, non-Abrahamic religion. So it falls to me each time, each encounter to choose whether to come out as Pagan or not.
I liken it to coming out as LGBTQ because it’s the same kind of choices, etc. And as an LGBTQ person, there’s another layer to deal with. Most staff and patients also assume I’m straight. They assume I have a wife because of my wedding ring, I guess. Or maybe they just assume I’m straight because heaven-forbid a chaplain be gay.
So yes, layers upon layers, exhaustion upon exhaustion. Why does this matter to me? Because, ultimately, I want to provide spiritual care. If a care recipient has some objection to my spiritual practice or sexuality, well, it might be an obstacle to providing care. Sure, I could just say, well, that’s their problem. But it hurts, it scares me. What will they say? What will they do? And so I “pass” as Christian, and I “pass” as straight. But this is not me, not at all. I feel like I’m betraying myself or putting on some kind of performance, and none of that feels authentic.
I wish I was strong or brave enough to just put it out there that I’m gay and Pagan every chance I get. Live my truth and all that. It’s difficult, and it isn’t that simple. That’s all for now, but thanks for reading and stay tuned for more.