The Minister's Role in the Sickroom

Recognizing the spiritual dimension in physical suffering and sickness.

CARL SUNDIN, Director, University Placement Service, Loma Linda University


Recognizing the spirit­ual dimension in man's need when he is sick, the captain of the med­ical team, the physician, welcomes the supportive presence of the minister of the gospel on the team. In order to assist in bringing to the bed­side a multidimensional ministry, the clergy will study to strengthen the spiritual factor that will support the individual in his battle to regain wholeness again, which was breached in the attack of the illness.

The apostle Paul refers to this whole state in I Thessalonians 5:23: "The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the com­ing of our Lord Jesus Christ." When this state has been breached, the healing process must of necessity be in all dimensions of the person's need—physical, mental, and spiritual. Thus is brought about the min­istry of healing.

Some points to be considered on the minister's part as a member of the team in the ministry of healing might be stated as follows:

I. Gather information essential to minister intelligently to the patient's need.

Source: family, physician, nurse, et cetera.

  1. Make contact with the physician on the case for suggestions and instructions that he might have. Under no circum­stances is the minister to make diagnoses, nor is it his role to try to interpret diag­noses made by the doctor. The minister's role is strictly supportive.
  2. Check with the nurse on the floor for any suggestions or instructions she might have to offer. She will appreciate being consulted and will be helpful.
  3. Information received from the physi­cian or nurse should be considered highly confidential. It should be borne in mind that the patient is in the care of the physi­cian and that he is responsible for the care of the patient. The physician himself will communicate what information is neces­sary for the patient's welfare, so far as his physical condition is concerned, except what he requests the minister to give him.
  4. Be professional in these visits, yet warm, understanding, reassuring. In other words, after gathering all information available, carefully plan and carry out the visit. Such visits can and should be of thera­peutic value to the patient, though they are not to be spoken of as such.
  5. Let the entry into the sickroom be quiet but with a firm step and a natural manner. Manifest a confident, reassuring spirit.
  6. If the patient offers to shake hands, do so gently, not otherwise. Sit or stand so he can see you without difficulty.
  7. Talk in a subdued but clear, firm voice. Be sure he understands every word spoken in his presence. If visiting in a ward, it might be necessary to speak close to his ear to make it personal.
  8. Never touch the bed or sit on the edge. This could cause him actual pain. He is in bed because he needs to be. Let him enjoy its benefits—exclusively.
  9. The minister is there to serve the in­terests and needs of the patient, therefore, a prescribed visiting pattern cannot be fol­lowed. It must be sensed when it is appro­priate and timely to read the Bible—short passages—and when not to. Sometimes all that can be done is to pray a sentence prayer. Always make it a cheerful, uplift­ing experience. A doleful voice or look can trigger a retrogression in the patient's con­dition. At the same time one must be care­ful not to give the impression of flippancy.

Consent for reading a Bible passage or for prayer needs to be gained in a judicious manner when a patient is not of like per­suasion. Doctrinal texts or texts with con­troversial thoughts, of course, should not be used in the sickroom.

     10. When he is able to read, an especially helpful Bible passage might be left with him to read at his leisure. These might be prepared on cards or as "capsules" or as "spiritual prescriptions."

     11. The nurse on the floor, his special nurse, or the physician should be consulted before visiting a patient on whose door is posted a "No Visitors" sign. They will be able to give helpful guidance in making a visit under such circumstances, if a visit is indicated. It may not be well to enter the room. They will know.

     12. Do not overstay the time. At the same time, do not act hurried. Either can be a source of irritation to the patient. Un­der ordinary circumstances the visit should not be longer than five or ten minutes. When the patient gets stronger, the time might be extended somewhat.

     13. When the time comes to leave—leave. Do not protract the departure.

     14. Do not discuss with him his medical treatment, except to the extent that the physician has indicated. He and the nurses are doing what can be done. Their profes­sion and honor are at stake. If there is need to discuss the illness or medical treatment at all, do so with the physician or the fam­ily.

     15. Speak reassuringly about the physi­cian and nurses. This will be good medi­cine for him. Good rapport and good work­ing relationships are essential between the members of the medical team if the min­istry of healing is to be most effective.

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CARL SUNDIN, Director, University Placement Service, Loma Linda University

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