It is amazing to me how a chance encounter with another person can test your faith and give voice to your mission in life.
In 2012, I had just started my hospital clinicals–clinicals are like student teaching for chaplains. It’s great experience for a chaplain soon to be ordained. Clinicals help us to think critically about our own underlying beliefs; these beliefs have a powerful influence on how we provide care to people.
One afternoon I got called up to the ICU. They were doing an extubation on a patient,which meant that this person was likely to die soon. Walking into the room, I remember thinking: Oh my God, what do I say? I wish the staff chaplain wasn’t at lunch.
In the room,there was another woman, whom the nurses introduced to me as the patient’s “friend.” She was there to take care of this woman and to companion her through these difficult final moments.
The friend told me that the patient is a believer and would want a prayer at a time like this. I said of course I would. I then asked how she was related to the patient. She kind of hung her head and tip toed around. “I’m her friend. We’ve known each other for a long time,and she is very special to me.” Then she said, “Actually,we’re partners, and I know you don’t believe in that.”
I was stunned. What she said broke my heart. During this time of such intense grief, what was hurting her the most was that she was not going to be accepted by the person who was there to help her. I knew immediately I could not be a part of a ministry that was excluding of some people. What she said really hurt me, and I knew my ministry would not be defined by that.
That was a turning point for me.
I told her: “I can see how much you love her and that your heart is broken for her.” She started crying. We then prayed for her partner as the vent was removed. Her partner died within minutes. I stepped forward and could see the familiar anguish of a love melting into loss I left the room, hoping she felt that she now had a safe place to grieve.
Here’s the real kicker. I grew up in a very fundamentalist Baptist church, with very conservative political and social ideals. The pastor is in charge—no questions asked. As a Southern Baptist, I was taught that LGBT people are flawed, confused, or mentally ill in some way. However,in the back of my mind, I always felt that message was not mine. But because I feel that message was not mine, the Southern Baptists now say I don’t fit within the Baptist criteria. And I am okay with that.
If I am not a Southern Baptist, then what am I?
Perhaps I am just a Christian. I am affirming, advocating, and making sure we are creating safe places for people to be whom God made them to be. I have no doubt that it is the right thing for me to believe and do.
I don’t believe that God made mistakes making anyone. A lot of religions teach and preach things that make us doubt or wonder about that. I don’t believe God made a mistake making anyone’s soul. When we talk about things like being gay or trans, that’s our body, not our soul. There is a big difference, and people should not be defined by whether they are gay or straight, transgender or not transgender. Unfortunately, for some people, it is going to take a really longtime to hear that message and understand it.
Labels are not important to me. My ministry is to people of all faiths or no faith. If someone is hurt, I am going to try to help that person. I feel God is about justice. God is about compassion. God is about loving all people.
I hope that all people will eventually be able to hear the message that God loves them as they are.
Come to think of it, during seminary I always found myself questioning doctrine. I learned early on that my education was “Here’s the lens to view the world through.” However, my clinical preparation was “Here’s the world; now find the appropriate prescription to see the world like it is—or just take the lenses off because you didn’t need them in the first place.”
In fact, I have created a mission statement for myself around these very ideals. It is:
To demonstrate the compassionate, justice-seeking, mercy-loving presence of God to people in the worst moments of human suffering.
Lately,I keep coming back to that last part:that people in their worst moments of human suffering is where I should be.There is still an astonishing amount of bias against LGBT folks in healthcare, which heaps social suffering on top of physical suffering. I see advocacy and reducing stigma as an important way to live out my mission.
I still think about that fateful moment in the hospital room. As it turns out,it was a good thing that the staff chaplain was at lunch.Because of it, I was thrown out of my comfort zone and realized that I needed to be more involved in the conversation that makes the world what it is. Out of this conversation, my hope is that my children and grandchildren would understand thatLGBT people should be loved and accepted as they are.
– Will Grinstead’s Story as Told by Tom Steiner
Will invests in building the kind of world that he would want his grandchildren to inherit: a world free of the stigma associated with mental illness, where every human being is valued for who they are. As a Muncie native, Will enjoys serving the community that made him who he is today, working as a chaplain at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital and as vice president of the Delaware County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
This story originally appeared in Facing LGBTQ+ Pride in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Muncie OUTreach in Muncie, Indiana.