A chaplain in one of our medical institutions has a wide and varied opportunity to serve all with whom he may come in contact. His responsibilities are so varied that it is difficult to say which is most important. Perhaps we could list a few of these responsibilities in order to grasp a picture of what a chaplain can do for those in the institution.
We might list first the responsibility the chaplain has to the patients who have come for physical help. It is being recognized more and more that many who come for physical help need spiritual help far more. A properly trained chaplain can help these people find the spiritual help that will prove to be far more valuable than all the physical help the finest of doctors could give. There are patients who come fearful of the results of their illness, concerned over the welfare of loved ones, or possibly just afraid of a hospital. The chaplain can surely help these individuals to be at ease and to accept the hospital procedures that are so important for the healing of their bodies. One problem I have encountered in connection with my work with patients is the widespread belief that all illness comes as a direct result of sin. This is a tragic situation and one that the chaplain ought to try definitely to help.
The chaplain, by his cheerfulness, understanding, and guidance, can frequently help patients along the way to a full recovery.
The second area that I feel is very important is that of guiding the working staff, particularly the nurses, aides, et cetera, in recognizing the spiritual needs of the patients. The nurses and aides are working with the patients twenty-four hours a day, and if they are trained to recognize the sparks of interest in the conversation of the patients, these sparks can frequently be fanned to a flame that will result in everlasting life. I feel that this is one of the most valuable contributions that the chaplain can make in the work of the institution. A chaplain must never take for granted that all the workers of the institution know how to deal with the souls of those who come to the sanitarium or hospital. He must try by every means available to teach the workers to deal with these souls in the most helpful, considerate way. Under the present setup, the chaplain usually teaches certain classes in the school of nursing, so that he has a real opportunity of teaching the student nurses in a systematic way these important principles.
A third contribution, and one also very important, is in discovering little trouble spots here and there in the institution that could result in really serious difficulty if not cared for. Frequently workers will pour out their troubles into the ears of the chaplain. He ought to be a sympathetic listener at all times, and if there is something that can be done to better the working conditions or relieve distress, the chaplain should feel free to take such matters to the administrative heads of the institution. Here at the Washington Sanitarium the chaplain is a member of the House Committee and has been for many years. He has frequently been able to bring up certain problems that need attention and correction.
In summarizing the over-all general work of a chaplain in one of our institutions, I am reminded of the little story of Saint Francis of Assisi, who invited one of his students to come and preach in the market place. Joining the famous teacher, the student walked with him through the market place and back to their home. The student asked the teacher whether they were going to preach in the market place, only to have Saint Francis respond, "We have been preaching in the market place." The overall influence of a chaplain could be likened rather definitely to the work of Saint Francis in this little illustration. As the chaplain makes his rounds visiting patients, as he stands before the student nurses in the classes, as he discusses problems with the administrative staff, and as he merely walks up and down the halls of the institution, his influence should be a blessing to others.