By Elder Boyd
Matthew 25:26 “I was sick and you visited me.”
Matthew 25:40 “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Visiting the sick is clearly cherished by the Lord as a gift given as unto Himself. Beyond that, it is just the right thing to do. We all appreciate a visit from family and friends when we are ill. That visit is even more precious when we are in a facility in which we are surrounded by relative strangers who are focused on testing, processing, documenting, and moving us physically toward being well. Often that does not include the spiritual support that we as ministers and servants of God are committed to.
- The purpose of a healthcare facility is to provide care to their patients. Many will attempt to provide some spiritual support through approved Chaplains, some who are staff personnel connected with the facility.
- Unless you are on staff with the facility, you are a visitor. For hospitals in particular, this means being in compliance with the rules and regulations for visitors. Visiting ministry personnel must often be requested or placed on a visitors list by the patient, or be cleared by the facility Chaplain to visit.
- The privacy and the security of the patients is closely guarded by the facility, and may mean additional screening of visitors, to include ministry personnel.
- The health of all patients may require additional measures to visit the patient, such as universal precautions of wearing mask, gowns, gloves, and strict hand washing. In some cases, you may not be able to bring your Bible into the room.
Strategies For Conducting Hospital Ministry:
- The best opportunity to get access to a hospital environment is to be invited by a current inpatient, or the family of an inpatient. Some hospitals may require that you be placed on a list of visitors. Make it clear that you are coming to provide spiritual support to that patient. Once you are there, introduce yourself to the staff coming into the room, and at the Nurses Desk, normally located at the entrance of the ward. If you have a card that gives your contact number, leave one (with the permission of the patient and/or family) at the front desk, offering to be available if needed for that patient. The more often you are seen, and speak with the staff, the more they will be comfortable with your presence.
- For a wider access to other patients, try to get an appointment to speak with the staff chaplain and/or administrator. The staff chaplain is the most important person to speak with, since he or she is primarily responsible for the liaison with outside ministries and churches. Remember that both persons may be very busy, so be patient and professional in your efforts. Let them know that you need ten minutes, and your purpose is to inform them of your activities in their facility. Once you have secured time with the staff chaplain, briefly explain that you are interested in expanding your experience in providing spiritual support to the inpatients, and request information on any training or mentoring opportunities he or she may have. Offer to assist the staff chaplain in any way needed, and let he or she know your availability. Make sure to tell them about any previous experience you have had, and your education that has prepared you for this ministry field.
- Contact other churches in the area, and offer to perform visits for their members that are in the hospital. It is more effective if you take the time to visit that church and speak to the Pastoral staff. Most churches are overwhelmed with many duties, so an offer to help is gladly accepted. Remember that until you are not viewed as an outsider, there may be some resistance to this idea. Offer to accompany their staff – Pastor, Deacon, etc..- the next time they make a visit to a hospitalized member so you can learn how they conduct their visits.
- Speak to people you know that have been hospitalized and gain their perspective about the experience. What did they want to see or experience when a visitor came there? What was their most enjoyable experience when visitors came? What was not good? The more you understand about the visit from the patient’s point of view increased your effectiveness as a hospital ministry worker. Remember, you are a visitor tasked to carry the joy of the Lord into their environment. Bring the Bible if you can, but carry the gospel in your heart and through your voice. They need most to see the love, and know that you care about them and so does Jesus.
What to Do:
- Enter the facility with the attitude of being a good visitor, following the rules as stated, and coming to serve the patient spiritually as the opportunity opens.
- Be understanding and respectful of the hospital staff as they move through their duties. They must do their jobs at the times required. That means that you may need to be patient.
- Keep a positive attitude – that means a smile. You are being observed by many that are hurting. Your presence can make their ordeal and concern more bearable.
- Look for opportunities to speak with those that are waiting in the near vicinity and provide a loving support to them. Allow the Holy Spirit to direct you to those who need to hear a soothing word.
- Conduct yourself in a professional and understated manner. You are not there to verbally preach a message, but to give a message through your actions of love. Remember that this is a time when others are more important than you are.
- Give. Time, attention, a listening ear, concern, hope, and Love. You are giving to the Lord in your service to the sick.
- Keep the door open to return. The patient, staff, visitors should all be edified by your visit. It only takes a genuine desire to bless others to have them feel and know that you came because Jesus Loves them.
What not to Do:
- Enter the facility with an air of entitlement or giving the impression that you are in control. You are an ambassador for the Lord, and have not title but “Servant”
- Display irritation or disrespect for other around you, especially not the hospital staff.
- Bring excessive graveness into the room where the patients are. It may be a serious condition, but they probably know that. You should be the quiet but confident beacon of hope pointing to the Lord.
- Be intrusive when conversing with the other visitors. If asked, let them know that you are a minister, but it is not an opportunity to add to your church or ministry. If they ask about your church or ministry, it is all right to briefly inform them about it.
- Be gruff, short, or combative in your approach. Again, you are an ambassador.
For those interested in becoming involved in getting deeper into the area of Healthcare Chaplains, I would suggest researching the Healthcare Chaplains Ministry Association. Their website is www.hcmachaplains.org There is an established training program and requirements leading to certification as a healthcare chaplain. They do require a degree from an accredited college or theological school and several years of pastoral care ministry experience to qualify for this certification.
Many hospital staff chaplains are affiliated with the HCMA or a similar organization. In the hospital, the staff chaplain is tasked with coordinating liaison and general visits from clergy and ministries in the local area. So if you are interested in helping the staff chaplain in providing spiritual support to the general patient population, you will need to call or write to them and describe your desire.