03/23/09 — Volunteers get advanced training to minister to patients, families

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Volunteers get advanced training to minister to patients, families

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 23, 2009 1:46 PM

Local ministers are learning how to better serve their parishoners as part of a six-month program designed to train local clergy who volunteer as part of the Wayne Memorial Hospital chaplain program.

The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education Inc. requires 400 supervised hours for a unit of credit for the participants, who are assigned to different areas at the hospital.

The weekly training is one of the requirements in the divinity program at Campbell University, where the Rev. Ralph Johnson, associate pastor of Best Grove Missionary Baptist Church, is a student. A long-time volunteer at the hospital, he can attest to the value of supplemental training.

"When I was just volunteering three days a month, I would meet a patient and probably never see him again," he said. "Now in the program, you begin to develop a relationship with that particular patient and with the staff. ... We don't just minister to the patients here but also to the staff because the staff is also affected. They also build a relationship (with patients)."

Everyone has a story, Johnson said, but oftentimes health care workers, chaplains included, are overloaded with responsibilities and don't always get an opportunity to learn what that story is.

By having more chaplains, and assigning them to specific areas, that brings consistency and better quality of care, he said.

"We begin to learn who that patient is and what that patient's true needs are," he said.

The Rev. Pete Bass is a retired pastor now serving his home church, Mt. Nelson Baptist in Eureka, as associate pastor. But it wasn't until he was on the receiving end of chaplain services that he realized the benefits.

"I spent months up here with my wife before she passed away," he said. "I felt like I needed a little more in-depth training. I felt like it was needed and of course as a pastor you're always in ministry to those in need."

Spending time by his wife's bedside during her last days, Bass said he witnessed firsthand the great need for families to have someone to minister to them.

"The hospital is limited when you have only one chaplain," he said. "I felt like this would be a good calling for my latter days or years."

The hospital chaplain is Suzanne Franklin, who joined the pastoral care department in 2005. She is grateful for the additional hands, but quickly points out that even though ministry is involved, it's not all praying and reading Scripture. Their role covers all faiths, or no faith, she said.

Dorothy Owens, associate minister of Hooks Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Pikeville, said it has been a great learning experience, especially in one area.

"Listening -- listening is something I'm growing in," said the former social worker. "I always thought I was a good listener, but I found that I wasn't as good as I thought. Being in this class is helping with that. I'm listening more, listening differently."

The five-member class also learn from one another, not only through the exchange of ideas but via mutual support.

"Sometimes when we interact with the patients, we tend to build up emotions and those emotions need to be released," Johnson said.

The weekly half-day classes provide such a release. There are many opportunities for group discussion and sharing, said facilitator Mary Ann Poythress, affiliated with the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education through Wake Med in Raleigh.

Every component contributes to the foundation needed to become better hospital chaplains, beneficial to someone like Johnson, who aspires to continue in that role.

"I don't believe that my call to ministry is to be a pastor but to be a chaplain," he said.

Developing volunteers and equipping them with tools to support families has also been great for hospital staff, Ms. Franklin said.

"I have heard from a lot of staff how excited they are to have a chaplain assigned to their area," she said. "What I do is mostly triage and you're not able to have that continuous care that you would like to have. (Volunteer chaplains) get to see some of the same patients and build the relationships. ... The chaplain can kind of be someone who comes in there and kind of ministers to the patient and the families. They also minister to the staff because (staff) can't be in that room the whole time."

The role also goes beyond the hospital walls, she said, creating a "win-win" for the community.

The hospital chaplains-in-training "work in the community and live in the community, so they're taking what they learn here out into the community," Ms. Franklin said. "You connect with people where they are and it's part of the hospital to provide holistic care to the patients and family while they're here."