Hospitals, spiritual care is not a luxury you can eliminate in a crisis. Now is the time you need it more than ever. And realize, too, that your chaplains are likely overwhelmed along with the rest of your staff, and they will suffer burnout, compassion fatigue, moral injury, and PTS along with them. What are you doing to help chaplains do their critical job, and to care for them?
Moreover, while chaplains are critical players in providing spiritual care, they are not the only ones with this responsibility. Everyone needs to see it as part of their job. See this article on “The Role of Nurses in Providing Spiritual Care to Patients: An Overview.” In some cases, only the nurse or the physician will be there with a suffering or dying patient. Their words, their touch, their prayers, may give comfort, hope, and encouragement.
Healthcare institutions are grappling with the same issue churches are. In this time of crisis, how do we provide spiritual and pastoral care? What if the pastor or chaplain cannot get to people? What if they are also casualties? In a broader sense, the question is how can we still be the church, without gatherings led by pastors?
For Protestants, this is when we need to remember the Biblical and Reformation teaching of the priesthood of all believers. All the baptized are called to minister to one another, and have the freedom and giftedness to do so. We have ordained ministers for the sake of order. We have a professional chaplaincy so that we can have experienced qualified individuals responsible for spiritual care in institutions. But in a time of crisis, Christ does not leave us alone. Hierarchical churches teach only certain individuals can “confect” the Eucharist, and if they aren’t around, the church has to do without. We, however, believe that any Christian can speak words of comfort, pray, break bread, baptize, anoint. These are the means Christ gave to his entire church.
Cannot get to church? You are church, if there are two or three of you together. Break bread. Drink the cup. Remember Jesus’ words. Wash one another’s feet. Lay hands on the sick and anoint. Declare to one another the forgiveness of sins.
God’s promise is true. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Dt 31:6, Heb 13:5). “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).
Let us use this as a time to recover this precious teaching of the priesthood of all believers. Chaplains and pastors, this is what you can do now. Teach, empower, liberate, and comfort the flock as they minister to one another with the blessing of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s an article by Rex Edwards, for those who want to explore the idea of the priesthood of all believers more fully.