Southern Baptist Healthcare Chaplains Offer Gospel Hope in Challenging Times

Cathy Disher, third from the right, is a Southern Baptist who serves as a chaplain at the cancer treatment center at Ohio State University called The James. During the recent COVID-19 outbreak, Disher, like so many other chaplains have been serving on the front lines of the pandemic alongside medical staff. Social distancing restrictions have forced chaplains to find creative ways to minister.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — Talk to hospital chaplains for long about what they do, and they will eventually mention a regularly repeated phrase: “ministry of presence.” It is the simple idea that the most important element of their work is to be present during the toughest moments.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread worldwide, many hospital chaplains have needed to find new ways to provide a ministry of presence when families can no longer be with their loved ones in person.

Cathy Disher, who serves as a Southern Baptist chaplain at a cancer treatment center at Ohio State University called The James, experienced this firsthand last week when one of her hospital’s COVID-19 patients was dying.

The patient’s wife and kids couldn’t be at his bedside, so Disher called the family to pray with them. Later, Disher said, the nurses were able to connect with the family through FaceTime so they could see their husband and father.

“They were the only ones who had permission to do that sort of intervention,” Disher said. “It gave the family a small window at a distance just to see him and express to him their love and care for him.”

Southern Baptists have endorsed 684 healthcare chaplains serving throughout North America. Some of them serve on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, but most of them are learning to practice their “ministry of presence” in new ways to stop the spread of the outbreak.

Last weekend, Bari Weiss of The New York Times wrote this about medical chaplains serving in New York City during the current crisis: “Few run toward the dying. Even fewer run toward the contagious. But chaplains do. They ministered to the sick before this pandemic turned their hospitals into war zones. And they will do so after this plague subsides, whenever that day comes.”

Like Disher, many Southern Baptist chaplains are providing the critical missing link of care between patients and families who must remain physically distant from one another. Some are using technological tools, like FaceTime and Zoom, to connect with patients and to help families reach out to their loved ones.

Tim Kinnersley, who serves as the lead chaplain at Northside Cherokee Hospital in Canton, Ga., recently used FaceTime to connect a patient with his family as he neared death. Though the man was a cancer patient and not a COVID-19 patient, visits had been limited by the hospital because of the epidemic. Kinnersley said the family was able to be with the patient the next day when he died.

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Source: Baptist Press