BCM Chaplains Share God’s Presence in Places of Great Need
The Chaplain’s Job Is To Leave No One Unblessed
Chaplains are in the DNA of Baptist Community Ministries. Since its founding, BCM has served the New Orleans region with chaplaincy services. In hospital rooms, intensive care units, crime scenes and police precincts, Board-certified BCM chaplains made 62,070 contacts to people in crisis last year. Their message: God is with you, even now.
In the 17 years Allen Mitchell has served as chaplain at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, no two days have been the same.
There are, however, common threads that extend from one day to the next. Mitchell makes daily rounds throughout the hospital, which includes several specialized units and three critical care units. One of the specialized units is hematology-oncology, where children often endure lengthy hospital stays to receive the intense treatment they require. Mitchell answers call after call, visiting extremely ill children and their families to offer help and spiritual support, reaching out to people of all faiths as well as those who identify with no faith tradition at all.
Every patient has a unique story to tell and distinctive needs to be met.
Mitchell’s approach is to first and always be present and listen.
“As chaplains, we’re the support people need in times of crisis,” he explains. “We are there at the most challenging moments in a person’s life. We seek to be a visible, tangible reminder of God’s presence at times when their whole world has been turned upside down. People tell you what they need. We journey with them hand-in-hand, doing what we can to help them meet those needs.”
That journey often takes BCM chaplains to places of greatest loss for the individuals they are serving. Mitchell says chaplains must go into the “valley of the shadow of death” in their effort to support those in need. The deepest valley for Mitchell is ministering to children who have been abused. “We have learned to be comfortable in very uncomfortable situations. This means that we maintain a non-anxious presence, bringing peace and a calming influence to help de-escalate tense situations. Our goal is to manage our emotions so we can help.”
Children may seek a safe place to voice their fears while family members may simply need support for the burden of caring for a sick child. Many times people just need to tell their stories. Some ask Mitchell to help them find comfort in their own faith tradition, which he does with the help of volunteers from various faiths. The hospital chapel, located near the main lobby, is equipped with a Muslim prayer rug, along with articles of other faiths. Mitchell regularly arranges for Catholic communion and priestly visits.
Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff members (whose work days are almost always tinged with high stress) also need the ministerial a chaplain provides. Mitchell says, “I help them unburden themselves so they can do their jobs.”
Mitchell first came to BCM for chaplaincy training after completing a seminary degree in Michigan. His goal was to become a correctional chaplain, but he found his place serving young patients. “I look at this hospital like it is the four walls of a church. For some, I am the shepherd, for others I’m like their pastor.” Whatever a day may bring, Mitchell works to show that God’s love is stronger than illness, fear and even death.
When Major Crisis Hits, BCM Chaplains Respond
When police officer Darryl Holloway was killed by a prisoner in June, 2015, making local and national news, one of the first calls over the police radio was “Has the chaplain been notified?”
By the end of that tragic day, 6 of the 12 chaplains employed by BCM at that time were involved in comforting other officers, family members and a grieving community, reaching out with prayers and spiritual support. The four police chaplains and the two hospital chaplains assigned to University Medical Center New Orleans ministered to numerous individuals coping with shock and trauma.
Calling the NOPD chaplains so quickly speaks to the respect and influence they have earned through years of faithful, compassionate ministry. These chaplains cover NOPD’s eight districts, Headquarters and Communications; they are always on call to minister to officers in need, to victims and crime scenes or to simply provide a spiritual presence at special events. They help police officers cope with the stress of the job, offering spiritual and emotional support.
The chaplain’s job is to leave no one unblessed. BCM continues the chaplaincy legacy that extends back over the decades to Southern Baptist Hospital, which trained numerous individuals who went on to serve as chaplains throughout the world.
Last year, BCM chaplains made 102,164 ministry contacts in the following areas: