Each fall, COMISS Network: the Network on Ministry in Specialized Settings, sponsors a week to recognize and affirm Pastoral Care providers. This year’s theme is Spiritual Resilience. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship endorses over 728 chaplains and pastoral counselors who provide pastoral care in a variety of specialized settings. This week we will hear from six of these as they reflect on spiritual resilience in their ministries. As you read their reflections take a moment to express appreciation to those who provide pastoral care in your community.
By Beth Duke
Tears glistened down the cheeks of the cardiac nurse as she held in her hand a polished stone inscribed with the word: HOPE. She said, “Thank you so much. This is encouraging. I have been so tired and have dreaded coming to work lately. I feel renewed.”
In October, 2014, during Pastoral Care Week the Pastoral Care Staff of Vanderbilt University Medical Center premiered the TouchStone Project as a way to care for the Vanderbilt staff. The institution had experienced an upheaval during 2013 that included significant downsizing and staff still felt the consequences of the shift.
Marcy Thomas, who had been a staff chaplain for eight years at the time, had attended the Association of Professional Chaplains in Anaheim, California in June. She came back enthusiastically supportive of the TouchStone Project as presented by Susan Bowen and Heather Bumstead of Froedtert Hospital Spiritual Services Department in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Marcy and I, along with our colleague Cordell Simpson, presented the project to various administrative and nurse management staffs, all of whom wholeheartedly affirmed and supported taking TouchStone to hospital units to show appreciation to staff.
And thus began our journey into the delight of being able to offer staff a way to “reconnect role to soul.”
Marcy, Cordell and I, along with our colleague, Matt Frierdich, our pastoral care director Andy Peterson, and our CPE and field education students, worked with units to coordinate the best day and time for them to observe TouchStone. Often the manager or charge nurse of a unit, or sometimes an administrator, participate by assisting staff to select their stone. We invite staff to select a stone from the basket either by looking for the inspiring word of their choice or by closing their eyes and reaching into the basket and letting the stone choose them—Harry Potter style!
We have witnessed the service with TouchStones facilitate affirmation, encouragement and the feeling of being appreciated. Often in the work world, and not just in health care settings, emphasis is on performance. We seek to help individuals in our community of health care feel valued and appreciated for who they are and for what they bring to their jobs. We provide a way to “get in touch” with their purpose, for what originally led them to choose the work that they do with patients and families. We want them to know that their work is important and that because of them, healing takes place for hurting and ill patients.
Susan and Heather’s manager, Janis Blean-Kachigan, wrote a script for the service which includes literally holding out each hand, one at a time, in a posture of openness; of placing the hands together to show the connection of role and soul; and of placing the stone, (hope, faith, trust, believe, peace, dream, family, friends, inspire, charity, love and harmony). We want each staff member to know that we value them and that they are of high quality.
Staff members keep their chosen stone to remind them of their purpose and high quality.
Staff are excited to choose a stone, no matter the method of the choice; some say that they chose a specific inspiring word that is meaningful to them; others exclaim joyfully when they let the stone choose them—and again—it is of great significance to them.
Units vary in size and in space. We have done TouchStone in large conference rooms where we use a pretty table runner and include battery-operated candles and the scent of lavender. Comments are made about the wonderful smell and the peaceful lighting. Other units are small and cramped and we stand up to do the service, which is a bit challenging but much better than not having the service at all. People are filled with thanksgiving for the spoken words of affirmation and gratitude for the work that they do.
Not long ago, one of our Palliative Care attending physicians, Andy Wooldridge, stopped me in the hall and asked if he could have a stone. I offered an individual service for him and he accepted. He felt a sense of renewal by the affirmation and by the reminder of why he does what he does.
I am keeping some of the service secret so that you might discover it for yourselves if you so choose. I have seen the countenances of staff members change from weariness and anxiety to peace and joy. It is well worth the time and investment to facilitate renewal and rejuvenation among staff—which, of course, spreads to the spiritual/pastoral care staff as well.
Marcy retired this spring but left us with the legacy of the TouchStone Project. Our staff, including our new evening chaplain, Minnie Wright, and our resident, Michelle Morris, along with Vanderbilt Divinity students Kim Goins and Sarah Green, are looking forward to offering TouchStone to our staff during Pastoral Care Week 2016.
Beth Duke is a CBF-endorsed chaplain and serves on staff in the Department of Pastoral Care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.