Diane Onken Kirkman has a gift for trusting her internal wisdom. A couple of decades ago, she and her husband, Scott, were looking for a small town to move to. After their research had narrowed the options down to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, they made some visits.

When they drove into Camden, “I started to cry, and I said, ‘This is it!'” she recalled. Eighteen years later, the couple still live in Camden.

That same quality of being tuned in to her instincts was also active earlier in her life. Kirkman was raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic school with daily Mass through sixth grade. Originally from Michigan, her family moved to Mexico City for a time because of her father’s job with Ford Motor Co. In her 20s, she stopped taking Communion because “I no longer believed in the doctrine of Transubstantiation,” she said, and therefore felt it would be hypocritical to receive the sacrament as a Catholic.

Subsequently, Kirkman joined and was married in the Episcopal Church. While a student at Ohio State University (where she earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in English and did a year’s graduate study in religion), she attended a Mennonite Church and a Quaker meeting. She now belongs to the summer Quaker meeting that gathers at the Children’s Chapel in Rockport and to the year-round meeting in Damariscotta.

Kirkman explained that she calls herself “a Quaker-flavored Christian” because she identifies as a Christian — something she said not all Quakers feel is important. Worship is only part of how Kirkman lives out her spirituality, however.

She is a lay pastoral visitor for Pen Bay Healthcare, visiting with residents at Quarry Hill in Camden, whom she also checks in on when they are patients at Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport. Visiting is “as big a part of my path as where and how I worship is,” she said, and it’s in her interactions with the people she visits that she “most consciously” lives her faith.

She had visited residents at a nursing home while a student at OSU, and after she moved to Camden, she started visiting a woman she knew who went into a local nursing home to die. And her inner wisdom spoke to Kirkman again. She realized that she was comfortable doing this type of visiting, which many people are not. “I thought that if I was comfortable doing that sort of thing, maybe that was what I was supposed to do,” she said.

She began as an informal volunteer visitor at PBMC, and when the hospital instituted training for lay pastoral visitors through its chaplain’s office, she was trained. As a visitor, she said, she has no agenda, religious or otherwise; her job is simply to be present. “I’m just there for whatever kind of companionship people need,” she said.

Kirkman said she has been told she’s calming. “I hope I bring an opening where [people] can be themselves in a way that maybe they can’t be with people who are there to fulfill a more clinical duty,” she said. “They’re not a patient to me, they’re a person.” Her visits, she said, give people a chance to realize that they are not alone.

She has received wisdom from those she visits, as well. “I’ve learned that everybody suffers, that everybody wants to hear that somebody cares about them,” she said. “I’m still learning to keep my mouth shut and listen and just be there.” Another lesson of her 10 years of visiting is humility. “The longer I do this, the fewer answers I have,” she said. “So I’m learning to just be with questions instead of always having to find answers.”

When someone indicates a desire for prayer, Kirkman is glad to offer it. When she prays with or for a resident, “it’s all real to me,” she said. She believes the Holy Spirit prays through her, “and it renews my faith every time that happens.”

Kirkman said she hopes others will reflect on whether they might have the talents to be lay pastoral visitors, or what their gifts are calling them to do.

“If we were all using our gifts, it’s astonishing to think what the world would be like,” she said with a brilliant smile.