WARNER ROBINS -- “Our chaplains play a vital role in the patient care experience here at the Medical Center of Houston. I’ll say that anytime, on or off the record,” Melissa Phagan said.
Phagan is director of volunteer services at the Medical Center and executive assistant to the facility’s CEO.
Her duties include administrative oversight of the center’s all-volunteer chaplaincy program and she’s clearly enthusiastic about them and their work.
And about what they mean to patients.
“They play a role in the spiritual healing and physical well-being of our patients,” she said. “Having a chaplain come in and talk with or pray with a patient can be very important in the healing process. A lot of times patients don’t have a church home or anyone that can help them like a chaplain can, someone who can listen to them and pray for them if they desire. We love our chaplains.”
As currently organized, the hospital’s volunteer chaplaincy program began in the mid-1980s. Phagan said there are about 10 ministers involved and Jerry Bisping, a retired minister who formerly served on staff at Mount Calvary Lutheran church, coordinates the group.
She said longtime volunteer chaplain Hershel Standard knows the program well and is a great example of the knowledgeable, caring group of ministers that represent a variety of denominations.
“I’ve been a chaplain here since 2007, Standard said. “At the same time the hospital put out a call that they needed more chaplains, the Southern Baptists offered a chaplaincy training course in Warner Robins. I took the course, applied to be a chaplain and have been here ever since.”
Standard said he’s an Air Force retiree who worked in avionics but was never stationed at Robins Air Force Base. He said a teaching post at what used to be Middle Georgia Technical College (now Central Georgia Technical College) brought him to the area.
Standard attended Warner Robins’ Oakland Baptist Church and became involved in ministry that led to pastoring churches in Taylor and Crawford counties and filling in for pastors across the state.
He said he’s continued regular chaplaincy training, something important for all chaplains. He said he’s received the Southern Baptist Convention’s chaplaincy endorsement, a rigorous accomplishment he said is equal to meeting requirements to become a military chaplain.
He has also said he’s had training and serves as a chaplain in crisis relief and natural disaster situations.
“At the hospital, we’re individually on call 24/7 for a week at the time about every six weeks or so,” Standard said. “We may get called in three or four times a week, but we don’t just sit at home waiting for the phone to ring. We come in each day and make rounds throughout the hospital, visiting those who’ve called to see a chaplain and being available for those we run into who want to talk.
“Most people don’t realize it, but we also serve hospital staff. They work under a lot of stress and though they’re professional in their duties, they face a lot of emotional situations. We’re here to talk and pray with them as well as with patients.”
In ministering to patients, Standard said chaplains take care to be a blessing and not a problem.
“First off, we’re careful not to get in the way of hospital staff while they’re doing their job,” he said. “Of course that’s important. We’re also careful to identify ourselves, we all have hospital IDs, and we’re careful not to take the place of a person’s pastor if they have one. We’re also careful not to stay too long in a room. We don’t want to overstay our time.”
Standard said among the ministry tools chaplains have, the most important is probably what he calls the power of presence: just being with someone even if there are no amazing words to say or things to do.
“I do try to engage patients and families in conversation to see what they want to talk about,” he said. “I’m there to listen and to help them with questions if they have them. I’m not there to convert anyone but if they want to go down that road I’m certainly willing. After all, I’m there as a servant of Jesus Christ. But I’m there to serve them respectfully in whatever way they need, whatever way I can. If they desire, I’m available to share scripture and Christian prayer. We’re always quick to refer people to other services or other ministers in their particular denomination or faith if that’s what’s needed.”
Standard said hospital contact and ministry often leads to further ministry outside the hospital.
“From meeting people here we’re sometimes called on for other things” he said. “We’ve been called on to do funerals and to perform marriages. You just never know.”
Standard said in keeping with the idea of the importance the simple power of presence, crisis situations where people are bewildered and hurting often are best served by simply listening and simple conversation.
“People rarely, if ever, decline a simple prayer, and we believe that prayer works,” he said. “Simple scripture is good. The 23rd Psalm is a powerful and wonderful message in and of itself. People knowing that someone is there and cares, that someone will listen to them and give what help they can is really a powerful thing.”
Phagan said ministers interested in volunteering as chaplains are welcome to call her at the hospital for information and application materials.
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.