Chaplains extend presence of Christ in hospital setting
Peggy Davis Gold’s ministry at Duke University Hospital includes patients, staff like nurse Lisa Hedgepeth (L), and clinical pastoral education residents like Valerie Nagel (R). Carla Wynn Davis
RALEIGH, N.C. – When a man once asked CBF-endorsed chaplain Peggy Davis Gold to visit his brother, who was coming to Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., for inpatient chemotherapy, he asked in a way Gold will never forget.
“This is not just another patient,” he said. “This is my brother.”
That desire to be known as a person and not just defined by an illness is something Gold remembers when she visits patients and their families at Duke Hospital. Sometimes she only gets to visit a patient once or twice, but in this long-term case she followed the patient through death, helping plan the funeral and comfort grieving family members.
“There’s this sacredness of being with someone hoping for more life, fearing he won’t get that and trusting in God no matter what,” she said.
These sacred moments for chaplains include helping patients make difficult life-changing treatment decisions or helping family members make tough decisions such as when to remove life support.
“In crisis moments when people are looking around and saying, ‘Where is God?’ that’s when a chaplain shows up,” said Greg McClain, a CBF-endorsed chaplain at Johnston Memorial Hospital in Smithfield, N.C. “In many ways, we incarnate that loving, compassionate presence that people really need in those crisis moments.”
Chaplains are resources to patients and families, whether it’s helping them navigate large hospitals, explaining hospital policy or connecting a patient with his or her faith community. Often chaplains are assigned specific units of the hospital, where they may visit patients, hold spirituality classes like McClain does in the hospital’s behavioral health unit, or be on call for emergency situations.
Both Gold and McClain are hospital employees, who, although Baptist, provide spiritual care for people of different denominations and faiths. In a way, the hospital is a chaplain’s congregation. McClain has performed baptisms, weddings and funerals with patients and families. Other holy moments include powerful conversations about faith and life.
“There’s something extremely authentic about people when they get in the hospital,” Gold said. “They begin to see what matters most in life, and we have the unique opportunity to be with people as they’re sorting through that.”
Chaplains also care for hospital staff – the doctors, nurses and other caregivers who can also be affected when patients die or other crises occur.
“Sometimes the staff has experiences very close to home,” McClain said. “We’re there to offer support to the staff.”
Gold has even led remembrance services in some hospital units after the death of a long-term patient or a surprising death. It helps staff remember a life lost and also let go, she said.
Whether with staff or patients, hospital chaplains are the presence of Christ by providing a comforting presence in what can be the most anxious times of a person’s life.
“What Christ provided was assurance by sharing with us what God’s love looks and feels like,” Gold said. “This ministry is about the getting to know, forming relationships and remembering ‘he’s not just another patient. This is my brother.’ This is God’s child.”
CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.