I am always glad for the opportunity to talk about pastoral care, and just what it is that we chaplains do. Some people have a lot of misconceptions about chaplains. I have walked into rooms before where I was told that I was not needed because “nobody is dying.” I have had well-meaning people ask me how many souls in the hospital I have “won to Jesus.” Some staff members have expressed surprise to see me at night, thinking that chaplains only work during day shift. Other staff members have been reluctant to talk to me about their own needs because they believed chaplains were “only available to the patients.” Some patients and families have asked me what church I work for, not understanding that I work full time here at the hospital. Others have asked how they can sign up to be chaplains, then are surprised to learn of the education and vocational training required.
The truth is that all of our chaplains here at MUSC are required to have a Master of Divinity or equivalent degree, and at least 1600 hours of Clinical Pastoral Education, which is supervised chaplaincy training in a hospital setting. We have ten chaplains here full time (though some of those also serve in churches), as well as several part-time chaplains who work on an as-needed basis. We are here to serve everyone in the MUSC community: patients, family members, hospital and educational staff, students, etc. At any given time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, there is at least one chaplain on campus, most of the time two – one at the main hospital and one at the ART building. We serve people of all different religions (though if patients request a spiritual leader from their own religious tradition, we will do our best to accommodate them), helping them to make therapeutic use of their own spiritual resources, and never, ever imposing our own beliefs on someone else.
One way of defining what we do is “Supportive Presence.” Chaplains do our best to embody God’s care for people by our presence with them. I hope that you will call on the chaplains when a supportive presence is needed. Another thing that chaplains do is offer blessings, and I close with this one from Rev. Jurgen Schwing of Kaiser Permanente:
“May the One whose knowledge is so vast be the light on your journey. May God’s hand be on your shoulders and relieve your fears.” Amen.
-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent