By Allison Anderson
This Fall we oriented our 3rd Chaplain Resident group to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s still mind-boggling to say that.
What shifted our world and our work in the Spring of 2020, changing everything for that Residency year, continues to define and redefine the work of healthcare chaplaincy every day. With new waves and surges in the pandemic, hospitals and chaplaincy departments have faced waves and surges of new and sustained challenges. The latest surge impacting our hospital comes in the midst of mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual fatigue, the cumulative impact of pandemic times.
It’s actually now, in these last few weeks, that my team and I have experienced the most severe impact of the pandemic in West Virginia—our patients are sicker, our ICUs are full, staffing shortages are mounting, and we are tired.
On some days, it’s been hard to figure out what to do, as we watch our nursing colleagues, in particular, carry the tremendous burden of this pandemic. There have been many days when I’ve wondered, “Are we doing enough?” or “What do we need to be doing?”
Early on in the pandemic, when faced with these questions for the first time, I turned all of that anxiety, helplessness, fear, and disorientation towards remembering there is nothing that will replace the presence of a chaplain, whether it’s for patients, their families, or our healthcare colleagues.
We could plan a whole bunch of things in the effort to support hospital staff, and many of these things may help, but instead of running ourselves ragged with tasks and programs, we made the decision that, first and foremost, we would be present. Visible, accessible, connected, and present. Not too different from our focus prior, but now with more urgency. When you don’t know what to do, do what you know.
As the waves and surges have come, the questions have come up again and again, “Are we doing enough? What do we need to do?” And each time, I breathe and hear the call to be present. To be a visible reminder of the Holy. To encourage our team to stay grounded in this simple call.
As a chaplaincy administrator, this is often a call for me to be present for my team, to help equip them for their work, and to provide space for them to share what they are experiencing. Lately, in our team meetings, it’s been the refrain from author and Duke University professor Kate Bowler that has filled the space between us. “God is here. We are loved. It is enough.” I guess in many ways this has become our team’s mantra. We forget, and so, there is peace and power in remembering together.
Wherever you find yourself today, may you hear these words for you. God is here, right there where you are. You are loved, so fully and deeply. It is enough.
Allison Anderson is a CBF-Endorsed Chaplain serving as the Director of the Spiritual Care & Education Department at West Virginia University Medicine in Morgantown, W.V.