In the moments of sorrow and joy that accompany a person’s time in the hospital chaplains provide what the patient needs most – a source of comfort and someone who will be still and listen.

In the Southeastern Iowa Synod eleven chaplains are serving under synod council call in community based hospitals, hospice homes, and retirement communities. These chaplains meet with patients, their families, and medical staff serving as a listening faith presence that is focused on meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of every person they encounter.

In the Quad Cities at Genesis Medical Center the spiritual care center is focused on comprehensive spiritual care.  The chaplains, pastoral care interns, residents and befriender volunteers serve four campuses as liaisons between patients and medical staff. At Genesis Medical Center the medical staff relies heavily on chaplains to help treat the whole person.

Patty Tillman, diaconal minister and chaplain in the Southeastern Iowa Synod, worked as a nurse for thirty years before pursuing her call to diaconal ministry and chaplaincy. “At Genesis Health the chaplains are integrated into the system providing support for grief counseling, end of life decision making, faith congregation notification when a patient is admitted, and sacramental ministry. The medical staff know they can come to us when their patients and they themselves are in need of spiritual care.”

Chaplains meet with patients and family members of all faith backgrounds and with people who have no faith background. No matter who they are caring for chaplains create a space for faith-centered conversations to happen. Pr. Katherine Werner has been serving as a chaplain for the past nine years at Mary Greeley Hospital in Ames. At Mary Greeley Pr. Werner and one other chaplain don’t just meet with people in their hospital rooms but they also meet with hospice patients in their home or at Israel Family Hospice House. “As a chaplain I have a broader outreach. I see the people who are not in the pew every Sunday morning,” says Pr. Werner.

Chaplains have the opportunity to be everyday evangelists and create space to have one-on-one conversations that are faith-focused – taking the mission of the Church beyond the congregation walls. “When a patient or family member asks to meet with me one-on-one and they don’t consider themselves to be a person of faith, I’m able to invite them to look at their life and what they are struggling with through a faith lens, “ explains Pr. Werner

Chaplains are also a source of connection when patients are far from home. Pr. Cindy Breed has served as a chaplain for eighteen years at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), and for the past nine years has been the chaplain for Lutheran Chaplaincy Outreach. Lutheran Chaplaincy Outreach (LCO) is a not-for-profit organization founded in 2005 by a group of Lutheran pastors. LCO is focused on providing spiritual care to patients, relatives and hospital staff at UIHC, as well as spiritual consultation for UIHC staff, ELCA pastors and congregations. Lutheran Chaplaincy Outreach is unique from other spiritual care departments at hospitals because it is a ministry funded by congregations, individuals, and organizations like Women of the ELCA and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Pastors can call on Pr. Breed to provide spiritual care to their congregation members when distance does not allow them to be immediately present.

“People come to UIHC from all over the state of Iowa and from all over the country. Lutheran Chaplaincy Outreach is able to provide a chaplain to patients who are far from their faith communities, and provide a source of connection and spiritual care to them,” explained Pr. Breed.

Chaplains journey alongside patients through the fear and uncertainty that comes with being admitted to the hospital and receiving an unexpected health prognosis. When Pr. Breed meets with a patient she spends time listening. Listening to the patient’s story, and learning what has brought them to UIHC. “I go into a patient’s rooms knowing very little. I am one human-being meeting with another human-being, and through conversation I’m able to bring hope and share Christ’s love. Many patients share with me that my presence as a chaplain provided them with a deep sense of peace and comfort.”

Chaplains extend the love of God in Jesus Christ to individuals in the moments when spiritual care and healing are needed most. They are a faith presence that is shared in our communities outside the walls of our congregations.

If you or someone you know are considering a call to specialized pastoral care like chaplaincy you can learn more on the ELCA’s website.

Learn more about the hospitals and programs mentioned in this article:

Lutheran Chaplaincy Outreach
Genesis Health Systems
Mary Greeley Hospital