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 13 years Allen Mitchell has been Chaplain at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, no two days have been the same.
There are common daily threads. Mitchell visits throughout the hospital, including in specialty units and three critical care units which serve extremely ill children and their families. He goes to the hematology-oncology unit, where children often endure long hospital stays. He answers call after call for help and spiritual support from patients, families and staff. He reaches out to people of all faiths or no faith.
Yet, every patient has a unique story and unique needs.
Mitchell’s approach is, first, be present and listen.
”As chaplains, we’re the support people need in crisis,” he says. “We’re there at the most challenging moments of a person’s life. We seek to be a visible, tangible reminder of God’s presence at times when their whole world has turned upside down. People tell you what they need. We journey with them hand-in-hand.”
That journey often takes BCM chaplains to places of greatest loss. Mitchell says chaplains must go into the “valley of the shadow of death” to support others. 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 that can 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 families may simply need support for the burdens of caring for a sick child. Many times, people need to tell their stories. Others
ask Mitchell to help them find comfort in their own religious rituals, which he does with the help of volunteer chaplains from various faiths. The chapel off the hospital lobby contains a Muslim prayer rug, and Mitchell regularly arranges for Catholic communion and priestly visits.
Doctors, nurses and other staff, whose work days are high stress, often need a chaplain as well. Mitchell says, ” I help them unburden themselves so they can do their jobs.”
Mitchell first came to BCM for chaplaincy training after completing seminary 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
Last June 20, when New Orleans Police Officer Darryl Holloway was killed by a prisoner, making national and local news, one of the first calls over police radio was “has the chaplain been notified?”
By the end of that tragic day, six of 12 BCM chaplains were involved in comforting other officers, family members and a grieving community, reaching out with prayers and presence. The four BCM New Orleans Police Department chaplains–Faith Berthey, Brian Cleveland, Joe Cull and June Wilder–and BMC hospital chaplains Debra Guidroz and Zack Ritchie ministered to so many coping with shock and tragedy.
BCM Vice President of Chaplaincy Services Dr. Jim Hightower believes that calling the NOPD chaplains so quickly speaks to the respect and influence they have earned through years of faithful, compassionate ministry. BCM chaplains cover NOPD’s eight districts and headquarters and always are on call to minister to officers and victims at crime scenes. They help police officers cope with the stress of the job and offer spiritual support and help with personal issues.
“The chaplain’s job is to leave no one unblessed,” Dr. Hightower says. “We continue the chaplaincy legacy that extends back over the decades to Southern Baptist Hospital, which trained so many chaplains serving throughout the world.”
Last year, BCM chaplains made 62,070 ministry contacts in the following areas: