he worst part of being a pastor is doing hospital visitation. I don’t like going to hospitals!”
This comment was made by a seasoned pastor. I was troubled by her comment, particularly since we were visiting a veteran’s hospital as supervisors to students, fulfilling requirements for ordination as chaplains.
I view pastoral counseling as an important part of ministry. As a pastoral counselor and chaplain at our local hospital, I count it a godly privilege to offer radical, loving care to those facing end-of-life situations.
It is deeply fulfilling to offer the comfort of Christ to patients and their families. End-of-life compassion provides the opportunity to offer three aspects of care: We offer the ministry of love, the ministry of presence, and the ministry of service.
The Ministry of Love
Mother Teresa wrote: “It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.”
Several dynamics apply to any caregiver who walks into a hospital or home situation. If a health-care worker hurries into a room with a scowl on her face, it does not promote comfort. A pastoral counselor who comes in with warmth and kindness is more likely to comfort a suffering person. The ministry of love may be displayed by your simply walking into a hospital room with the love of Christ in your heart and sharing a warm and caring smile.
The ministry of love also includes the ministry of listening. Practicing loving care is allowing the dying person to tell his or her story, so he or she feels heard and understood. It is about offering quality to the person’s final moments on this earth. The ministry of love includes offering ways for these loved ones to feel the love of Christ in their hearts and in their midst.
The Ministry of Presence (NPDA)
I was visiting a large university hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I walked into the intensive care unit to visit a parishioner. As I passed the nurses’ station, I noticed a large note: WE PRACTICE NPDA (No Patient Dies Alone).
Remarkable! I thought. That large and busy hospital operates with a care policy that if a family member cannot be reached and a patient is close to end of life, a staff member will sit with that patient and hold his or her hand until death. No one dies alone at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
This is the beautiful ministry of presence. This is radical, loving service to others. This ministry of presence includes holding the hand of a patient on a respirator who struggles to express his or her needs. Sharing another’s pain can be distressing, but vital. Compassion requires genuine presence.
When I arrive at my local hospital, I always slip into the chapel to pray before I begin my rounds. I ask the Lord to use me to usher His presence into every situation I face.
One doctor, Rachel Ramen, states, “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we give each other is our attention. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”
God is present, even in our silence. The ultimate goal of pastoral visitation to the ill and dying is to seek to usher in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Only He can perform His transforming work in the suffering person’s heart and life.
The Ministry of Service
Why are some people natural servants while others find it difficult to lift a finger on behalf of another? A servant leader will constantly ask: “What things can I do to help another in his or her suffering?” Compassionate care is hard work, but it is rewarding.
Lorraine is a registered nurse who practices loving service. She knows that most patients, because of their illness, will never remember her. Yet, she gives loving care to them every day. Loving service is based on kindness, compassion, and respect for all people, whether they are conscious or not.
The message of Jesus calls for us to love those who seem beyond love. This is critical for end-of-life caregivers, especially those who are called upon to minister to exceptionally difficult and critical situations. The ultimate reason for offering this kind of love and service is this: It is what Jesus would do, and we follow Him.