During hard times, many lean on their family and faith to get them through. Taking care of your spiritual health is just as important as nourishing your body and getting exercise, but limitations because of COVID-19 make the task more difficult.
With restrictions on contact and visitations, chaplains at Texas Health hospitals are getting creative when helping those who need their guidance. Ministry has shifted and taken new shapes to meet the need for spiritual counsel in uncertain times.
After the initial adjustment period, Judy Collins, M.Div., BCC, chaplain and manager of pastoral care at Texas Health Kaufman has found new ways to help those who need her help and guidance. “I have adjusted and can do ministry in many ways, sometimes over the phone and sometimes in the parking lot,” she adds. “It’s not my physical presence but what I represent and the strength of your faith. I’m usually very relational in my ministry. Feeling like I’m hiding behind the mask, not being able to touch people, hug them, was hard for me in the beginning.”
Parking Lot Ministry
Parking lot ministry has been an integral part of the shift in how chaplains help patients and their families through difficult times. “I traded my high heels for sneakers because of all the back and forth to the parking lot,” Collins adds.
Recently, a patient went to the emergency room, but his wife and daughter had to stay in the parking lot. Collins checked with the wife and daughter to calm their nerves. Since there is uncertainty in an emergency, she relayed the patient’s health update and prayed with the family. She also made sure they had the right phone number if they needed to call.
“Not being able to see with their eyes that their loved one is ok is very difficult,” Collins says. “They appreciated the connection and seemed calmer.”
Jacquetta Chambers, Doctor of Ministry, BCC, chaplain and manager of pastoral care at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford, also found herself helping patients in the parking lot. A patient who was facing a surgery recently wanted to be baptized before the procedure. Because of COVID-19 precautions, he could not come to the hospital until the day of his surgery.
Like Collins, Chambers got creative with a solution, suggesting performing the baptism in the hospital parking lot two days prior to the surgery. She had prayed over the baptismal water since receiving his urgent phone call and sprinkled it on him during the parking lot baptism.
As she finished the baptism, “I was crying, his wife was crying, he was crying,” Chambers says. She adds that it “shows me people are still seeking God in this turbulent time.”
Since the pandemic has curbed visitor restrictions, many patients find themselves alone and lonely during procedures or in their hospital rooms. With the help of technology such as iPads, they can stay connected with loved ones.
“Chaplains and nurse managers strategically partner to identify vulnerable patients to ensure support and opportunities to connect with their loved ones through the phone or iPads,” says Elizabeth Watson-Martin, M.Div, BCC, ACPE, vice president of faith and spirituality integration.
Using iPads has allowed chaplains to support and guide patients while getting a virtual face-to-face connection. They also stay in touch with patients via phone calls. Collins found that patients open up surprisingly more over the phone than she expected.
During the COVID-19 crisis, the need for spiritual guidance isn’t just limited to patients. Watson-Martin says chaplains and nurse managers have partnered to support frontline nurses and other health care workers under increased stress. Chaplains regularly round, encouraging and praying with staff members upon request, she adds.
Collins found a similar theme at Texas Health Kaufman. “The work with the staff has changed a little, they are affected more on a personal level. They can usually go in and take care of people, but now there’s a little concern,” she adds. “Most of them worry about what they will take home. They’re worried about exposing their family to something at work.”
Watson-Martin says that many pastoral care departments host quiet rooms for staff respite and offer prayers and blessings for health care workers at the beginning and end of work shifts. They’re always thinking ahead, as well. As many grieved the loss of their traditional Easter and Passover celebrations, the pastoral care staff tried to lessen the sting by doing a daily holy week devotion on the website. She also set up a communion station on Maundy Thursday for staff to receive communion.
“The work I’m doing with the staff has become as important as what I’m doing with the patients,” she adds.
Helping staff feel part of a bigger community has been a focus for Collins as the pandemic intensified and more restrictions have been put in place. “The story this week is not COVID, it’s resurrection,” she says. “There are some things that are bigger than COVID-19. Once in a while we need to be reminded of that.”
The community has also rallied around hospital staff, bringing food, sending flowers to nursing stations and putting signs of appreciation on hospital grounds. Chaplains have taken on the role of connectors between the community and the staff, praying for them on behalf of local churches and pastors.
Watson-Martin adds, “Chaplains are blessed to serve with our nurses, doctors and other clinicians on the front lines.”