Chaplaincy: A Gift from Heaven

By Barbara Robertson and Kathy Winings

Since March 2020, so many in our communities and families have come face-to-face with tragedy, death or a personal crisis of some type. Whether the crisis was due to the loss of a loved one from COVID-19, personal illness, loss of a job, hunger for human contact, or any number of issues, people have turned either to professional counseling, spiritual guidance or to a chaplain.

In particular, over the past year, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of hospitalizations — especially with long-term stays. What has made this more difficult for both family members and patients has been the hospitals’ “no visitation” policy or the allowance of just one visitor for the general medical floors.

Added to this has been the stress on the medical staff of long hours, increased patient loads and number of patients who did not survive. This context has increased the importance and value of the work of chaplains — most particularly hospital chaplains. This article presents the role and value of chaplains from a very personal and direct perspective.

One year ago, Dr. Winings began a new journey that started with a medical crisis resulting in a very long recovery period. While the outcome has been good, the journey itself could have been much worse if it had not been for the co-author: a professional chaplain. Even though Dr. Winings encouraged her UTS students to complete at least one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), she had never been on the receiving end of chaplaincy. That changed this year.

Based on Kathy’s experience, she now realizes what a gift chaplaincy is and how much a chaplain contributes to someone’s life. Pastor Barbara Robertson begins their story, sharing what a chaplain is, does and how they are trained. As a professional chaplain, Barbara has impacted so many people through her work at Vassar Brothers Medical Center, 85 miles north of New York City overlooking the Hudson River.

Barbara Robertson: What does it mean to be a chaplain? People often ask, “What is a chaplain?” My usual response is: we are like a minister without an agenda. Our role as chaplains is to meet you where you are, and help you identify your own inner resources that you can use to get through the crisis you are facing. We are not there to preach, convert or proselytize.

Thirteen years ago, while studying for my Master of Divinity degree at UTS, I was offered the opportunity to do an internship as a chaplain at Vassar Brothers Medical Center. With that first unit of CPE, I was hooked. Chaplaincy training is based on the model of “act, reflect, act.” What an amazing experience and what an amazing life lesson to always take time to reflect and then shift as needed.

Continue reading “Chaplaincy: A Gift from Heaven”

Let Your Light Shine Before Others: Spiritual Formation in the Age of COVID-19

By William P. Selig

When the test result came back positive a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d followed all the recommendations — two vaccine shots, physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing — yet still, I was infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Thankfully, the symptoms were mild, but for the following 10 days, I self-quarantined, which meant staying in my office, eating by myself, and distancing from my wife and family.

The experience was terrible. It was not so much the illness itself — I could deal with the flu-like symptoms — but I was troubled by the sense of “uncleanliness,” and that a passerby could “catch” my disease. It was also impossible not to feel fear and ponder the worst-case scenario. Instead of imagining a future with our grandchildren, I was left to wonder — are my affairs in order?

During this period of uncertainty, I drew on my experience teaching “Spiritual Formation and Integration,” which I describe as a process to discern God’s presence in our lives. I explain to the students that His concern is not how much money is in our 401(k) account, but the amount of love in our hearts. Through self-reflection, self-examination and contemplation, the students are guided to identify the “sacred” in the “ordinary,” and move closer to our Heavenly Parent.

Though there are different ways to understand spiritual formation, I resonate with Christian scholar Dallas Willard (1935-2013), who believed that people of all faiths go through spiritual formation. He uses the metaphor of flying to demonstrate its meaning: “One of the things I most like about flying is when you take off through the clouds and finally break through them into the sunlight.… It is so thrilling to break into the sunlight.” I appreciate this colorful image of breaking through the clouds into the sunlight as a way to describe spiritual growth. “Very likely we will not become perfect for some time yet,” he says, “but we can, as Paul urged the Philippians to do, ‘become blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.’”

An excellent resource for our class discussions is Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by J. Robert Mulholland, Jr. (1936-2015), who defines spiritual formation as “the process of being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others.” This is a straightforward definition which uses Jesus as the model for a person who loves and serves selflessly, and lives/dies for a greater cause.

Continue reading “Let Your Light Shine Before Others: Spiritual Formation in the Age of COVID-19”

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