Chaplains: part of the medical team

By Chaplain Chris Madison

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.


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  1. chaplain04

    Well written. If only all work places understood that and treated us in the same way you are treated and respected. Thank you for renewing my spirit. May blessings continue to abound in your ministry.

  2. Lucy Porter

    Your post could have been written about the hospitals I served, New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, NY and Overlook Hospital in Summit, NJ. It was an incredible privilege to do this work, and I feel so blessed to have done it for the last 15 years of my active ministry. God bless you and all those with whom you work.

  3. Eldon Smith

    My Air Force Chaplaincy provided opportunities to serve as a hospital chaplain in diverse situations. Though I never had the opportunity to acquire the clinical training which is required in civilian hospitals, I was working most of the time with either civilian clergy or military chaplains of other denominations. When I was the Staff Chaplain of the second largest medical center in the Air Force I had a total of 10 chaplains working iwth me. As the senior chaplain I gave personal priority to ministering to the needs of the medical staff. It is my philosophy that the patients can’t get the professional care they need if the medical personnel are not “well” themselves. I counted it a great privilege to be a voting member at the Medical Staff meetings and to be a part of the Human Experimentation Team. I was able to desigh a large symbol for hanging in our chape which was a combination of a cross, a star of David, and the medical caduceus. The hospital also arranged for in-house broadcast of the chapel services by video to each bedside.l was fortunate to have so many co-workers that I could give time to a unique ministry.

  4. William Moorer

    Thanks, Chaplain Madison: Terrific statement here. After a year of CPE following seminary, I served 41 years as parish minister, campus minister, Director of state conference of churches, and district superintendent. and retired. THEN, I was invited to be a part-time V.A. chaplain, which I have done for 13 years now. Yes, it is a privilege.

  5. Rev. Pat Wadsworth

    I am more highly trained than this piece describes, and have had nearly 17 years’ experience as a hospital chaplain.
    This is a “nice” piece, and it includes some very good material. However, I find in it many broad generalizations (“all are trained at the very least at master’s degree level;” “and hundreds of hours of clinical training”), leaving a rather idealistic picture of the work of the chaplain and the chaplain’s relationship to nursing and medical staffs. I believe every individual chaplain must (and should!) expect to have to prove his/her value to the work of the specific health care team in her/his institution. It is not as automatic as some might easily infer from this piece.

  6. Pastor Chad Jacobs

    If you teach people to join the military, you are going against Jesus who said to put down your sword (weapons) because he can send angels to help us. (Matthew 26:52-53) If you lead into captivity, you will go into captivity. If you kill, you will be killed. (Revelations 13:10) Let the spiritually dead take care of the spiritually dead. Do not support our nation’s military. Our nation supports gay marriage and supports paying homosexual couples allotment checks as well as spousal death benefits out of our tax dollars. We are financially supporting sin. We must get out of our nation. Boycott our military. It is no longer a righteous nation. We were supposed to be a land of milk and honey but we are a land of sodomites and killers. If you were a chaplain oversees, you should teach them to get out now. We cannot support wars when Jesus taught us not to go to war. The heathens go to war. We can turn the other cheek and bless our enemies to teach them to do what is right using diplomacy. Who taught you to go to war?

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