As an eight year old child I was hospitalized for an evening at St. Margaret Mercy Hospital in Hammond suffering with asthma. My parents went home, and I found myself in a big pediatrics ward, one where there were multiple beds and a lot of kids. This was in 1960. Hospitals were different then. However, human need was the same. After my parents left I was frightened and crying. It was at that point that a Roman Catholic Chaplain walked into the ward, noticed that I was crying fitfully, and asked, “What’s wrong?” I answered between sobs, “My parents had to leave. I’m scared.” The chaplain listened to me and said, “You’re going to be all right. Your parents will be back tomorrow. God is with you. You are not alone.” And then he gave me a piece of PEZ candy. His words and the PEZ candy did the trick. I soon fell asleep. And the next day came, and my parents returned. That was my first encounter with a chaplain.
Chaplains come from diverse faith traditions, yet all are trained at the very least at master’s degree level. This training focuses on the humanities, psychology, counseling, sociology, theology, Bible and hundreds of hours of clinical training, usually carried out as Clinical Pastoral Education. We are trained in conflict management, listening, prayer, communication, sensitivity and cross-cultural service and are part of the medical team in every hospital. Some have one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. Others may have as many as six to eight units. Some have completed year-long residencies, sometimes pulling 80 hour weeks, like medical personnel. And we work hand in glove with medical staff.
Chaplains don’t want to ever be underfoot or in the way. We often work as liaisons between medical staff and families in crisis. Some of us bring the Sacrament of the Sick or the Eucharist. Others may anoint or baptize. We all bring hearts and spirits rooted in love of God and neighbor. We support staff, especially when there has been a difficult loss on units. We listen to the broken hearted, to help families when loved ones are receiving palliative care. We try to ease tensions with families who may be unhappy about perceptions of medical care and then connect them through nursing staff to our patient advocates. We listen to the depressed and the suicidal and work side-by-side with social workers. We dry the tears of those whose grief may be inconsolable. And we pray. Yes, we do pray.
Chaplains are doctors of the soul, and we are part of a huge team in our hospitals. We try and do what Jesus, the apostles, and what the saints of the ages have done: represent God’s love. We’re honored to be on staff at hospitals and count it a privilege to work alongside a great medical team!
Chaplain Chris Madison was endorsed for general hospital by the United Methodist Endorsing Agency in 2014. He is an elder and member of the Indiana Annual Conference. For more information about extension ministry, chaplains, and pastoral counselors go to www.gbhem.org/clergy/chaplains.