As a hospital chaplain, I meet a lot of “Nones” and these aren’t the kind of nuns who wear habits, — although their habits are expected to cause quite a stir, in future political contests.

” Nones” are the ever-increasing number of people in this country who indicate their religious preference as – “none.” Religious surveys indicate that “None” numbers are just behind the Catholics and the Baptists. Every morning as my colleagues and I sort the patient lists for religious preference,
I notice that many patients indicate “none,” or “NRP” for no religious preference.

My favorite euphemism for the “Nones” is DTS, meaning declined to state. I love DTS. I try to empathize with the DTS folks who may have grown up with hellfire and damnation preaching. I suppose they have a right to say, “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds it might incinerate me.”

Most of the Nones or the DTS patients tell me that they don’t believe in “organized religion,” to which my usual response is to say, “No problem, I’m hoping to start an ‘disorganized religion.’ Perhaps you’d be interested?” I tell them that I’ve actually given a lot of thought on just how I would start this new “Disorganized Church.”

I’m thinking I could borrow some traditions from all the world faiths. For instance, like the Jewish faith, my “Unorganized Religion” will still have the Ten Commandments, but we’ll probably not be able to keep them in their original order. From the Muslim faith, we’ll bow to Mecca, although it might be more toward Minot North Dakota, (As they say in ND, “Why not Minot?”). From the Christians, we’ll borrow the idea of the Second Coming of the Messiah. Only on the morning of the Archangel’s trumpet sound, we might be sleeping late and hit the snooze button to wait for the second trumpet.

Over the years, I’ve met several potential members for my disorganized church, but I still remember one patient in particular who asked me to pray for him after he’d undergone surgery to remove a tumor from his brain. With his survival questionable, I strained to listen as he whispered his request: “Teach me to pray.”

That simple request combined the most rewarding element of my job with the most tragic element. While it was eternally rewarding to me that this man would ask me to teach him to pray, it was far more tragic that he needed to make this intimate request of me, a stranger.

The most tragic part of being a hospital chaplain is not the human suffering I see daily — it is watching people struggle through that suffering with a connection to nothing – they are Nones without a faith community. That is why I am determined to remain a part of a faith community. Some folks try to
discourage my search by telling me there are too many hypocrites in the church. I tell them the church remains the only place in the world where people gather to acknowledge weekly that they are not perfect. In fact, they celebrate that they are far less than perfect. I like to explain it this way: If you visit a community service club, the members will naturally brag about being part of the best club in the world. In a faith community, you should find a group of people who take comfort in assembling under the banner that” no one is perfect.”

Indeed, I’ve always sought a faith community in much the same way one might look for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – some place where I can introduce myself by saying,” Hi, I’m Norris. I’m fairly messed up, but I’m still going to need a community of care.”