My two sisters are nurses at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York, the epicenter of this coronavirus. It’s sobering. When it hits this close to home, it’s sobering. What a blessing it was to pray for them at the Virtual Prayer gathering. Thank you.”
So wrote Yisel, from human resources. She was not alone. Amanda, from our clinical mission integration department, wrote, “The outpouring of prayers brought me to tears. I couldn’t hold them back. With tears flowing down my face, I watched and listened to the cries of broken and limited people calling out to their all-knowing and all-powerful God. I have no words. Thank you.”
Nanette, from physician enterprise, stated, “I was so deeply moved as we prayed together and heard each other cry out to God. Thank you for taking the time for us to come together and support one another.” Caroline, another colleague, added, “Such a powerful time together! I felt the overwhelming presence of the Lord with us as we were praying. God bless you all!”
These stories came from our Virtual Prayer gathering, a 15-minute service established by Sergio Torres to meet a specific need—to provide a space where a family of healers can find hope and healing during the coronavirus pandemic.1 It symbolizes the unique way Sergio has carved out to minister in the corporate world.
The power of one
Regularly, AdventHealth’s “congregation” has been within a hospital campus or medical facility. Sergio saw a congregation within the organization’s corporate office. Traditionally, pastoral care has meant a pastor’s care for his or her congregation, represented by a church, a school, or even a branch of the military or government. Sergio was determined to see pastoral care at work in the corporate world.
With a ministerial career spanning 40 years, Sergio found AdventHealth’s roughly 3,500-employee corporate team to be larger than the churches he had pastored. Sergio understood that it doesn’t take thousands to have church. Where even two or three are gathered, Jesus promised to show up. Sergio’s strategy was to reduce his audience to one person.
“I realized you don’t have much time for programs in the work environment,” he said. “There was little time for it in the hospital setting, and there’s not much time for it at the corporate office. So, I’ve learned that two minutes of simply connecting with a team member makes a greater impact. I’m never in a rush to leave when I’m talking to someone. My priority is to be present in that moment.” Such a moment came with Susan.2
Sergio sat down with Susan, as he had with many others before her. He was not there to offer her the perfect formula for overcoming grief but simply to listen—a critical element in pastoral care. He learned that her pain stemmed from her mother’s recent death and a disagreement she’d had with her brother over their mother’s final wishes.
“She told me she was not ready to talk to him about it,” said Sergio. “That’s when I suggested journaling her feelings. It changed her completely. She had been carrying such a heavy burden, but through the process of writing things down, she found a way to release it. You could see it in her face and sense it in her body language. She was starting to feel whole again.” Although Sergio had been the one to suggest journaling, he was not the one who had initially sensed her need for spiritual support.
“The church is the body. And here, we spiritually take care of each member of that body.”
The power of “we”
Clayton Alves, a member of his ministry team, noticed that something was bothering Susan.
“We were walking toward each other one day, and the Lord revealed to me that something was different about her,” Clayton related. “I stopped and asked her about it, and she shared the news of her mother’s death. I did nothing more than listen to her, affirm her feelings, and share insights from my past experiences with loss. But given her questions, I knew Sergio would be of great help.”
A campus pastor is an important piece of the puzzle—but still only one piece. Sergio recognized that when you have a team working together, you can better care for the whole person and, at the macro level, the entire campus. “Those of us who serve on the ministry team are in positions where we work in close proximity to our peers and know what is happening in their lives,” Clayton stated. Efficient pastors know that effective ministry can never be a solo effort. Sergio knew that all too well.
He decided to pour himself into his leadership team and became enamored with the biblical concept of the body. “Together we make a ‘corps’ because, one, the word is used as an abbreviation for corporate and, two, it’s the Latin word for ‘body,’ the body of Christ,” he continued. “The church is the body. And here, we spiritually take care of each member of that body.” For Sergio, one key scripture—Ephesians 4:15, 16—guides this concept: “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (NIV).
For Sergio, it’s about the ministry, never the minister. He likes to call his work “We Ministry.” His colleague, Jay, emphasized this point. “We are the ‘corps,’ the spiritual body,” he said. “Sergio brings certain skills, but we are a family that serves together.”3
Ministry to your congregation
Having a heart for mission is precisely what keeps Sergio going when he receives a call about a team member or team member’s relative who’s been hospitalized or has passed away. He visits them in the hospital and is present during their funerals. Sergio even visits team members at home who are experiencing hardships within their family life.
Because these difficult moments touch more than one person and affect other members of the “corps” (the body), he can also be found meeting with entire departments following a team member’s hospitalization or death to help the group collectively process and express their emotions. Sergio likes to ask three questions when meeting with people:
- What kind of support system do you have in your life?
- What resources can you access to help you?
- What is your relationship with God like, and how can it be a source of strength for you?
During his meeting with Susan, Sergio asked those same three questions. When they reached the last question, she opened up about her faith in God’s strength but her lack of faith in her own. It was not until her experience of journaling that she was able to muster the strength to let go and forgive her brother.
“The most amazing part of my job is that people like Susan trust me with their stories,” Sergio observes. “The fact that people would have the courage to open up to me tells me that I am invited to be a part of their journey. That they don’t have to go through it alone. That not only can I enrich them, but that they [also] can enrich me.”
Ministry for your congregation
Opportunities for mission are present in a church congregation—Sergio was committed to offering them to his corporate congregation. While in a church setting, ministry leaders may be in contact with their congregation for a couple hours each weekend, in the workplace, campus ministries gets to interact with and support theirs five days a week, eight hours a day. So, Sergio and his team pushed forward with domestic mission trips, Bible studies, special worship experiences, speaker-centered devotions, Christmas and Easter events, and programs that support the annual Week of Spiritual Renewal.
Sergio’s ministry is about addressing those who have crises, but it also extends to proactively identifying points of possible conflict. This places the ministry not at the periphery of the corporation but at its heart. Moving beyond programs and activities, the ministry works closely with human resources to ensure that mission education is embedded in the very job-candidate and new-hire experience. Sergio’s ministry to employees, particularly the COVID-19 Virtual Prayer gathering, inspired Judy, a clinical application analyst and leader of a five-minute daily prayer on her floor.
“I just wanted you to know that the CareNet team restarted our five-minute prayer this morning,” Judy stated. “It was our first virtual meeting. Those who wanted to connect and see each other just clicked on video. It was very nice. I wanted to let you know that the spark is relit and ready for the other Spiritual Ambassadors to follow suit if they’re willing and able. This is a great way to interact with people, especially now that we’re home.”
The power of “He”
When the Virtual Prayer gathering was set up to offer our healing community a place of relief and release, Sergio and his team wondered what the response would be. One? Ten? One hundred and twenty signed on for the gathering! Alejandra, from integrated health services, was one.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I decided to ‘show up’ to the Virtual Prayer gathering. I wasn’t that familiar with MS Teams or the people at Corporate. But, I thought, why not? If not now, when? So, I did. And what a blessing it was! Gary, the leader of this prayer ministry, started things off and allowed us all to cry out to God. I’ve been in churches during prayer time. I’ve heard people crying out to God before—but from a church pew. This was so different.
“As people began to pray out loud, it was the most beautiful sound I’d heard in a long time. People lifting up our coworkers and families and leaders to the throne of God. I know we work for a faith-based organization. And our mission is to extend the healing ministry of Christ. But I also know we’re a corporation. We’re not a congregation. Yet, in that moment, we were the body of Christ! And hearing our brothers and sisters cry out to God for protection for their families was beyond words.”
For Sergio, ministry is about working together as a team, serving wherever we are placed. It’s about being available to God and people. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). It’s about Him, because while God can use you, God can also bypass you.
- Sergio Torres is manager for spiritual ambassadors and pastor for corporate campus ministries at AdventHealth, a national health system operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
- The name has been changed for the employee’s privacy.
- Orlando “Jay” Perez is vice president of mission and ministry for AdventHealth.