Chaplains offer prayer, support for patients, families

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Wykeelah Scott remembers becoming “kind of emotional” about her mother’s condition some weeks after she arrived at Memorial University Medical Center’s emergency department in late September.

Two of the hospital’s chaplains met with the family and prayed with them — all of which made their situation easier, she said.

“She (a chaplain) actually prayed for my mom and we felt better,” she said.

“You can never get enough prayer, never,” said her sister, Vaneeka Brown. For the patient, Juanita Ling, and her family, that kind of care remains an important part of her recovery in one of the hospital’s specialty-care units. The Rev. Norris Darden Jr. “has been awesome to my family and he has been a tremendous help through this process,” Brown said.

But for Norris and senior staff chaplain the Rev. Rachel Greiner, this kind of care and comfort is all in a day’s work.

Both are ordained ministers in their respective faiths. Darden, in addition to being an Army chaplain, is senior pastor at the New Generational Baptist Church. Greiner frequently leads worship at local Presbyterian (USA) churches.

But the rigors of being a hospital chaplain require additional skills. At Memorial, the clinical pastoral education program was re-established last year after a 10-year hiatus.

The Rev. Brian H. Childs, now the ethics liaison, came to the Memorial campus as an ethics department volunteer in September 2014 to work with Mary Ann Beil, Memorial’s vice president for corporate ethics. He then joined the team in January 2015.

Childs started the revitalized chaplain’s training program in June 2015.

Childs said four people have finished the 14-week internship. The program has trained 14 and hired two, giving him a staff of 11.

“We like to keep four interns at any point in time and it takes 14 months to complete the program,” he said. “We only hire a small number of graduates, and the rest are getting jobs elsewhere.”

Chaplains can go anywhere in the hospital, including the trauma and emergency rooms and Clarke Clinic.

In addition, the program trains at least two seminarians each summer for the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, he said. This summer they will have three.

Darden is a graduate of the Memorial program, which he said gave him “a broader perspective on how to minister.

“The training was the most intense challenge and it pushed you to a place you have to deal with your own demons, but it helps me minister better,” he said.

Griener has a slightly different perspective.

“I am a board-certified professional chaplain,” she said. She did her residency at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond while working on her master’s degree in counseling. At the same time, she was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.

Greiner brought her skills to Memorial in September 2011 where Childs now is training her for the next level.

The mother of a 14-month-old toddler, her main calling is working in pediatrics, but she covers the entire hospital as needed.

On this day, she had already seen 12-15 patients and that did not include their family members. Contact with patients may be prompted simply by a request for a Bible or a prayer, she said, adding “it really just depends on how the patients get here.”

Their service is non-denominational.

“We do our best to accommodate them if we can,” she said.

She is the only full-time chaplain. Her schedule is five days a week; Norris overnights as one of eight as-needed chaplains, she said. Two others are part-time.

“Being a chaplain, you have good days and you have bad days,” she said, adding that the job can be stressful at times.

But she said her experience at Memorial has been great.

She came to Memorial “just to be a chaplain here,” Greiner said, adding she plans to stay, “If Memorial will have me.”

By Chad Fleck

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