Pastoral Care: Healing Body, Mind & Spirit
By Space Coast Daily // November 17, 2011
When the going gets tough, they are the go-to guys. They guide folks through all of life’s “A-List” events, from births to weddings to deaths. They help us through indescribable grief – as well as amazing joy.
They are hospital chaplains.
“We hold the ground until the Cavalry comes in. It’s a ministry of presence.”
The Joint Commission on Accreditation to Healthcare Organizations requires all hospitals to meet the spiritual needs of their patients. Some hospitals use volunteer chaplains, while others, including all hospitals in Brevard County, have full-time chaplains on staff.
In the current world of intense healthcare competition, pastoral care remains one of the few areas in which all hospital systems cooperate without reservation.
Chaplains arrive at the job from very different backgrounds. Father Bob, who has a master’s degree in divinity, was an Episcopal school chaplain and is also a licensed mental health counselor.
Chaplain Jon Arnold, the chaplain at Cape Canaveral Hospital, will in 2011 also be charged with leading pastoral care at the new Viera Hospital. A member of the Association of Professional Chaplains, Arnold is a Church of Good ordained minister who has gone through the extensive requirements of this gold-standard group.
After a career in children and youth ministry, Wuesthoff Hospice and Palliative Care Chaplain Anne Taylor Owen, a member of the Cooperative Baptists congregation , realized her true calling lay in hospice work. “My aunt got sick and had hospice,” she said.
“I was able to be with her the last five months of her life and I saw this amazing group of people.”
SISTERS OF MERCY
With 45 years of teaching under her belt, Sister Joan Grace embarked on a new career as chaplain at Wuesthoff Medical Centers in Rockledge and Melbourne. The job was not new to Sister Joan, a member of the Sisters of Mercy since 1962, she had volunteered as chaplain in the Rockledge hospital.
“Part of the mission of our order is to care for the sick,” explained Sister Joan. “I’d been called here many times to pray in the middle of the night.”
Whatever their experiences and previous paths, chaplains all converge in their ministry to people, most of whom are outside their faith tradition.
“It’s not a job, it’s a ministry,” said Sister Joan.
Their faith and their spiritual strength are tested daily.
“People challenge you to see if you’re big enough to deal with some of these situations,” said Chaplain Jon.
“We see more in a week than most people see in a lifetime,” added Father Bob.
“One of the reasons I gravitated to the hospital is that we encounter people from all walks of life. They’re looking for faith, for hope, for meaning.”
Their burdens are made easier by their faith.
“I go one day at a time to make the most out of every day, and rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance,” said Sister Joan.“The Spirit always comes through.”
THE BEST AND WORST
Chaplains weave in and out of the lives of patients and staff in all departments of the hospital, be it ICU, ER, hospice or maternity.
They help couples cope with the drowning of a child and help console children after the shooting of their father, when people’s lives are changed in an instant. They share in the joy of a good test result, as well as offer strength when the prognosis is grim.
“You see the worst, but you also see the very best,” said Father Bob. “There are wonders upon wonders.”
Arnold, for example, recounts the poignancy of being invited to be part of a dying baby’s last moments of life.
“That was more traumatic than a thousand deaths,” he said.
It’s not only the patients who benefit from pastoral care, for staff overwhelmed by the human drama they daily encounter often call on chaplains for comfort with the spiritual issues that naturally arise from the constant life-and-death dramas.
“Staff are our parishioners,” said Arnold.
Chaplains are spiritual healers, who, like physicians, make the rounds each morning to care for their patients.
“We’re there for the patients, families and the staff to help them any way we can,” said Sister Joan, who as part of the day’s work will pray with a janitor or a doctor or a patient or a bereaved family.
DEATH IS A PART OF ‘DOING BUSINESS’
As hospice chaplains, Taylor Owen and her fellow chaplain, the Reverend Ken Cocker, face death as part of doing business, but even in these end-of-life situations, hope shines.
“We have a patient who was given four months to live,” said Chaplain Ann. “It’s been 18 months now and she’s living and thriving and smiling and enjoying everything she does.”
Still, Chaplain Ann admits the job can take its toll on many chaplains. “Nationwide, hospice chaplains last either an average of three years or more than 20,” she said.
Health First is moving even beyond the hospital with Faith Community Nursing, a three-year pilot program spearheaded by Chaplain Arnold. The new health ministry places nurses Carolyn Wilt and Stephanie Cranfield within the context of two different faith communities, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and Grace United Methodist Church.
“The nurses are not acting as nurses in hospital,” said Chaplain Jon.
“Instead, they’re operating more as chaplains who have nursing knowledge. They visit parishioners in the hospital or at home and are able to address their questions. We have such a great believing community in Brevard that we can easily tap into to educate and facilitate. It can help us be more effective in treating patients.”
ACCEPTS ALL BELIEFS AND VALUES
By listening, by teaching, by being there for their fellow parishioners when they are needed, nurses like Wilt and Cranfield provide support for the home bound or sick and promote healthy lifestyles through presentation within their own communities. “We’re healing body, mind and spirit,” said Wilt.
Patients, of course, can refuse a chaplain’s services, but few do, because such good friends are often hard to find. A good chaplain doesn’t proselytize, but rather accepts – and loves – humans of all beliefs and values.
“Not one denomination has a monopoly on God,” said Sister Joan.
“We are all following God. I thank God every day for the opportunity to be His healing hand in any way I can.”