I have always enjoyed stories of people switching roles; whether it is Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd in Trading Places or watching children instruct parents or grandparents on how to use an iPad. There is something comical and at the same time profound in seeing the student become the teacher.
As I reflect on my journey, I feel led to share my own story of a role reversal, which happened a few weeks ago at Bedford College.
I sat in my office thinking through the upcoming morning devotion, concerned that my pre-planned topic on how we should all learn from comedians was ill-fitting for the day. Overnight, Andrew Chan and Myruan Sukuminian (alongside 6 others) were executed. Overnight, Baltimore was rioting after another young black man died at the hands of police. Reports, photos, and stories from the devastation of the earthquake in Nepal continued to roll in. We were still reeling and responding to Cyclone Pam. Closer to home the floods in Northern NSW had taken lives and indefinite detention of refugees was (is) still a thing. I was sitting, staring at a blank screen, my cursor flashing, and the only words I could muster were “everything sucks”.
My devotion that morning lacked my usual preference for stories and jokes – I’d almost characterise it more as a lament than a talk. It was an attempt to process and provide a space for processing, all the while admitting that it is not easy to process one tragedy when we awake, seemingly every morning, to another. I was hurting and, trying to be as honest as possible up the front of that assembly, I had little hope that the hurting would stop soon. I ended the talk with a meek encouragement to encourage and to show grace. We then finished with silence… for reflection, for processing, because words, I felt, had very little worth.
Devotions ended, and that was when the ministry began. I had five students stay behind independently (a decision which eats into their morning tea), so as to ask me how I was going, to check in with me and how I was coping/ feeling. One stayed behind to read to me from Scripture, a beautiful passage from Lamentations, in hopes that I would find solidarity and hope with someone else who hurt. As the day went on I had more students poke their heads into my office to ask how I was going, to see if I wanted to talk, or needed anything. At lunch, one student asked me to follow her to a surprise; we went outside where a friend of hers had brought along the 10-week-old puppy they were looking after – this she thought might cheer me up, she was right.
Throughout the day, and again the next week, the students checked in on me, asked me how I was going and spoke with me about the world, our responses, our hope. Throughout that day, the students ministered to me, throughout that day – they were my chaplains.
Role reversals are fun; they often lead to new discoveries in both the role and the actors who play the role. That Wednesday’s role reversal was a great reminder of what it is to minister to each other’s needs, what it means to live the ‘priesthood of all believers’, what it means to use the gifts we have been given to build one another up in love, what it means to respond, to care… and beyond all of that, it led me toward new discoveries of what it might mean to be a chaplain.