General CBF

Praying with the Sergeant Major

The following post comes from Michael Metcalf, a CBF endorsed chaplain who serves as staff chaplain to the Long-Term Care, Palliative Care and Hospice units at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga. He is certified by the Association of Professional Chaplains and a member of First Baptist Church, Augusta.

13 Oct Chaplain Michael Metcalf   001He served for nearly 30 years and finished his military career at the top. He retired as a Command Sergeant Major, the senior enlisted Soldier in a Brigade of over 3,000. He had made requests, and the requests were taken as orders by those who received them. He had spoken and everyone in his Brigade listened—even the Colonel, Brigade Commander, for whom he worked. He had barked, and Soldiers had literally shaken in their boots—but not anymore.

When I first met the Sergeant Major, he was confined to a wheelchair, assigned to a locked unit, and the only thing other than what he was wearing that he could control was his menu choice. And even his menu choice had to meet the Dietician’s restrictions. Other than seeing his loving wife and family, who visited often, the Sergeant Major’s only joys were attending church, reading books and smoking cigars. It was difficult for his wife to get in to take him to either their local United Methodist congregation or to the Sunday services at the VA Chapel. And “doggone”—his words—he couldn’t smoke his cigars because he was on a locked unit.

It was the Sergeant Major’s gruffness and assertiveness—very appropriate in his former station in life—that had gotten him assigned to the locked unit. Some of the staff had considered him non-compliant, even belligerent, because he was resistant to change and questioned everything they did. Some did not recognize the Sergeant Major’s frustration at having so much of his self-determination taken away from him. He recognized that there was so much that he could not do for himself, that he needed care, but “doggone…”

I met the Sergeant Major for the first time when he attended an Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) Meeting, convened to review his Plan of Care. His Physician, PA, Nurse, Psychiatrist, Dietician, Recreation Therapist, Social Worker, Clinical Pharmacist and myself, the unit Chaplain, all gathered to discuss with him, and each other, the care that he needed and that we could provide. As you might imagine, for someone with his military credentials and experience, he verbally engaged with each team member, asking questions and commenting on what he had experienced so far on the locked unit. When it came my turn to interact with the Sergeant Major, his face seemed to light up. He smiled from ear to ear and just beamed.

“Good morning, Sergeant Major.”

“Good morning, Chaplain. I bet you’re a Baptist,” he replied, still smiling.

“I was raised a Southern Baptist and I am in the process of becoming a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Chaplain,” I replied, with a grin of my own.

“Well, I’m a Methodist—a member of St. Mark’s—but I have a really good friend that is a Baptist Minister of Music. And he told me that you Baptists are getting along better. He says that you all actually speak to each other at the liquor store now.” He laughed so hard that I thought he was going to fall out of his wheelchair. Everyone else, including me, had a good laugh.

I asked how I could provide spiritual support and if he had any special spiritual needs. The Sergeant Major stated that he appreciates pastoral visits and welcomed me to come see him at any time. And then he moved on to speak to the next team member.

The Physician was the last to speak. He and the Sergeant Major spoke in depth about his physical condition, things that might improve and those things that were unlikely to improve. Then, when all the medical issues had been discussed, the Physician asked the Sergeant Major whether he had any questions of any of the team members.

“I don’t have any questions, but I do have a request.” Looking at me, he said, “Chaplain, would you lead us in prayer?”

I was surprised—surprised on two counts: the Sergeant Major’s reputation for belligerent behavior, and the fact that in my 20-plus years of healthcare chaplaincy, I had never once been asked to pray at an IDT meeting.

I voiced a prayer from my heart, asking the Lord’s Blessing upon the Sergeant Major, his family, the staff who seek to meet his needs and the needs of all of our Veterans. While I cannot recall the words, the Holy Spirit must have provided them, for several of the staff had tears in their eyes as did the rough, gruff, Sergeant Major.

After the Sergeant Major was wheeled from the room, the Physician and I turned towards each other. Almost in unison, we said, “He doesn’t need to be on this unit.” The Sergeant Major moved to an open unit that week and almost every Sunday, he is in the VA Chapel service.

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