Church of the Brethren chaplains are invaluable members of the ministerial body. While serving in a variety of non-congregational ministry settings they face significant challenges that by necessity require them to deal skillfully with trauma, grief, loss, and critical crisis situations on a daily basis. The recent pandemic experience has tested their capacity as never before and there is much to learn from their stories. Office of Ministry Director Nancy Sollenberger Heishman asked a few chaplains to share what the ministry of chaplaincy has been like in these times and how they have seen God at work.
Recommended Resources and Reading from Brethren Chaplains
Health Care Professionals’ Spirituality and COVID-19: Meaning, Compassion, Relationship by Anne L. Dalle Ave, MD, MS; Daniel P. Sulmasy, MD, PhD
“As Assistant Director managing nine chaplains at a pediatric hospital providing 24/7 coverage, I immediately began getting information including a complex guide about caring for COVID 19 patients, which a doctor in China had produced to share with others in healthcare…
“2021 has been a more difficult year in our pediatric setting as we have experienced an increase in the overall number of patient deaths, especially sudden deaths in our emergency room and seen a dramatic increase in the number of COVID positive children needing hospitalization. One of my newest chaplains who just completed Clinical Pastoral Education said she held the hands of up to seven adult patients who died of COVID in one shift. Often family members were not permitted so the chaplain holds the phone or iPad as family members share their final goodbyes. There is no way to describe the emotional and spiritual toll that type of ministry and
pastoral presence takes on healthcare staff and chaplains.”
“When Earlham College’s campus closed with very little warning in March 2020 due to COVID-19, it was a traumatic experience for many students. Receiving word that with urgency they needed to leave campus or fly back from an off-campus program and return “home,” (a complicated concept for many young adults) was an experience of time stopping for this generation of college students. They remember exactly where they were and who they were with when their confidence in the stability of the world significantly changed.
“Before the seniors left campus the following day, I worked throughout the night to assist them in planning a very meaningful ‘mini-graduation.’ https://www.facebook.com/earlhamcollege/videos/641436063092802. (I can be seen helping to coordinate the service at 1:04 in the video.)”
“Chaplains live and move in an apocalyptic zone, a liminal space between worlds. Between sacred and secular, chaplains offer presence and care in a variety of ways. Between the here and the hereafter, chaplains facilitate expression of grief for the dying and their loved ones. Between the many human divisions, chaplains facilitate rituals that fit the moment of need.
“Five nights a week from 12:00 to 8:30 a.m., I go to my shift at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. It is a mid-sized regional medical center, level 2 trauma center, heart center, and stroke center. Every shift is unique, and I never know what awaits.”
“I think I will be ‘reflecting’ (unpacking) what it means to be a chaplain serving during a pandemic for many years to come. As a professional, clinically trained, Board-Certified Chaplain and Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 25 years of experience providing ministry in Level 1 and Level 2 trauma centers, I thought I had seen ‘the worst of the worst’…
“Chaplains are part of a well-practiced trans-disciplinary team with clearly defined responsibilities as part of a coordinated response. Chaplains are the providers of supportive compassionate spiritual care and religious resources to patients, families, and staff in times of crises. It all seems clear and relatively easy to do, until it isn’t.”
This year’s recipient of the APC Distinguished Service Award is Rev. Anna Lee Hisey Pierson, an advance practice chaplain and member of the Church of the Brethren. Anna Lee is recognized for her extraordinary contributions to the chaplaincy profession. She helped create the Palliative Care and Hospice Advance Certification (PCHAC), a specialty certification process that recognizes the unique skills and gifts needed when providing spiritual care to patients and families living with chronic illnesses and coping with end-of-life dynamics.