When a doctor becomes a priest the most obvious change is the uniforms.
The white coat and stethoscope is exchanged for the dog collar and crosses – outward signs of a more fundamental change.
I never did wear a white coat by the way, so the stethoscope became my badge of office, hanging round my neck – not for show, but so I didn’t lose it.
When I was ordained as a priest and became a reverend, I chose not to lose the title Dr. It had been part of me for so long.
If I couldn’t always cure, I would try to heal. There is a huge difference in those words, making better without being better, understanding when illness is so difficult to understand. So I became a Reverend Doctor with a clerical collar round my neck. The title and the collar felt strange, but in many ways the work was, and is, so similar.
Being available when trouble hits and knocks our lives for six, listening when we need to talk, doing practical things when practical help is needed. Helping to heal.
There are differences, of course, but they are not that huge. When I worked as a doctor I believed that God was present in the people I met and in all that I did, but was only mentioned when patients would ask me what I thought and believed.
Now people know and they, more easily, sense the presence of a loving God in my life and may (I emphasise the word) sense God in their lives too.
When I was a doctor many people wanted to talk about the hospice and my work with the dying; they were often fascinated. Now they want to know how and what I believe.
I want them to ask and get a glimpse of the mystery. I use that word advisedly because I do not have all the answers and have questions of my own.
The words that I use as a priest are often different to those of the doctor. The long complex names of scientific jargon have been left behind.
But in the face of suffering, the words and actions are ultimately the same. Giving time, accepting people for what they are instead of judging, listening to the story of their lives, recognising how unique we all are and loving for what they are and not what they have been is the same for doctor and priest.
Yes, I do talk of God’s part in our lives, just as I used to talk of what medication I might want to use, and just like the medical advice, sometimes it is rejected, but with mutual respect we can listen to each other.
Doctor and priest – not so different after all.