My hospital phone rings and after nearly 11 years as a hospital chaplain I often wonder, so “What next, Lord?” It was one of my colleagues calling, a doctor from the Palliative Care Team, to say they had just visited an inpatient who had been placed in their care. Chaplains are integral members of the Palliative Care Team, so it is routine to ask patients about their spiritual care needs. Hence the call, as head of department, to say an elderly man in his early 60s was requesting a visit from a Christian. I wrote down the necessary details and offered to visit him as soon as I could.
When I arrived at the patient’s bedside, I found him struggling for breath and on oxygen and yet delighted to see me. I introduced myself, explaining that I was from Pastoral Care. I needed to repeat this for him because N95 fitted masks and shields, along with general ward noise, often make it very hard to communicate these days. He very clearly responded that he was very pleased to see me, stating that he had been waiting a long time for such a conversation – seven years, in fact.
So I invited him to share some of that story with me, as best he could in between gasping for breath. He did with a surprisingly strong voice. He let me know that he had, in his words, been looking to find someone to help him to become a follower of Jesus for some time. Then he wanted to share a deeper story about a personal near-death experience.
He prefaced this with, “I don’t know if you believe in this stuff, but…” He told a story, as his health deteriorated and while he was near death, about a dream in which he was confronted by “the Grim Reaper standing at the end of his bed, flames raging in the background.” This was a very distressing dream – even for a former heavy weight boxing champion. When he awoke in hospital aware that he was still alive, he told me he knew he must belong to Jesus. He had never gone to church and had been seeking baptism ever since the dream.
After further discussion, we arranged a great celebration for him. I invited a couple of my colleagues from a number of Christian traditions to join me and together we celebrated his baptism the following afternoon. His response was truly stunning – as we completed the short service, he relaxed back into his chair and stated, “I have been saved at last – nothing to fear now. I am not afraid of dying now I belong to Jesus!”
He subsequently decided to share his experience with his adult daughter. But not before he shared that special moment with the rest of the patients in the ward who supported him, the nurse peeking in the doorway and anyone else who would listen. These are the moments that celebrate hospital chaplaincy – being available and bringing hope, as and where needed. One of my Palliative Care colleagues said to their staff, “All this and for Cheryl – no drugs required!”
Matthew 25.39-40 calls us to visit those who are sick. By visiting those who are sick, listening to them and caring for them, we are visiting and listening to and caring for Jesus.
Editor’s note: If you would like to support the ministry of Anglican hospital chaplaincy, please donate online via this ANFIN account, which has been set up especially for hospital chaplaincy in our Diocese. For more information, please email email@example.comJump to next article