Chaplains provide comfort, guidance through challenging year

Bill Graham / The Meridian Star

The Rev. Vicki Gladding prays at an event outside Rush Foundation Hospital in March. “We had a lot of employees that needed to be able to continue to do their job with excellence," Gladding said. "And they were going through the same emotions that everybody goes through.”

The Rev. Vicki Gladding said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, her position focused mainly on patients. That had to change quickly, though, when the pandemic spread to Lauderdale County. 

“We had a lot of employees that needed to be able to continue to do their job with excellence,” said Gladding, a chaplain at Rush Foundation Hospital. “And they were going through the same emotions that everybody goes through.”

“The pressure is so difficult and high," adds Gladding, who reminds hospital employees to take breaks during the day.

She recommends that during their breaks in the workday, they do something that they enjoy such as taking a walk in nature or reading a book.

Hospital patients are also encountering challenges. Gladding said patients who enter the hospital, whether they have COVID-19 or not, are having to deal with both their illness and being separated from their loved ones.

Loneliness and depression have been “more difficult and more prominent,” she said.

“And that, in my opinion, impedes the healing process,” she added.

To help patients, Gladding said she actively listens to them.

“When I go to a room, I just introduce myself and tell them who I am,” she said, “and that I’m here and available if they walk to talk or if there’s anything I can do.”

Gladding is one of many local chaplains helping frontline workers, military personnel and hospital patients navigate the pandemic. Chaplains say that employees at their institutions are experiencing stress and other emotions, and hospital patients are experiencing loneliness and fear during the pandemic. 

Dr. Joe Anderson, chaplain at Anderson Regional Medical Center

Chaplains provide comfort, guidance through challenging year

Submitted photo 

Dr. Joe Anderson prays for and encourages nurses who treat COVID-19 patients at Anderson Regional Medical Center. 

Dr. Joe Anderson said he cannot enter areas of Anderson Regional Medical Center where COVID-19 patients are staying.

“It’s heartbreaking to me,” he said, “because I know that there’s a need, but I can’t go to meet it.”

The chaplain writes devotionals, which are sent to all hospital staff in an email. The hospital also records prayers said by Anderson and other pastors, and it broadcasts a prayer on its PA system each morning and evening.

He is also able to meet in person with patients who do not have COVID-19. He said patients are scared.

“People … hear the news on the TV or on the radio and they say, ‘Oh, look at all these people that’s dying,’” he said.

But Anderson pointed out that many people, including himself, have gotten over the disease.

“There’s a bigger chance of you getting over it than there is of dying from it,” he said. “Fear is driving people right now.”

Anderson said he is also able to talk to health care workers. He often speaks with nurses or doctors in the hallway.

“I’ve stopped right there and prayed with nurses and doctors too, right there in the hall,” he said.

Lieutenant Matthew Purmort, staff chaplain at Naval Air Station Meridian

Chaplains provide comfort, guidance through challenging year

Lt. Matthew Purmort, staff chaplain at Naval Air Station Meridian

Lieutenant Matthew Purmort said the pandemic is adding to the stress that military personnel may already experience.

He said the primary mission at NAS Meridian is to train strike fighter pilots, who have to go through a stressful curriculum. The base also has an air traffic control tower that has to be fully manned.

“Yet at the same time, we’re trying to do social distancing,” he said.

Purmort said they are trying to navigate two realities at the same time: “the stress of our mission and just the responsibility of doing it safely.”

Purmort encourages sailors and Marines whose holidays will be different than normal to make a plan for those days. He gave the example of a family that would normally attend church on Christmas Eve, but cannot this year. He said that this Christmas, they could read the Christmas story in the Bible, pray together and watch an online service.

“Maybe it doesn’t look exactly like it did a year ago,” he said, “but at least have a plan to make the most of it.”

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