The work of the hospital chaplain at the intersection of life and death



The ministry of clinical chaplain brings spiritual healing to hospital patients and those who care for them.

The Boston Globe:

Think of a chaplain, and — if you’re of a certain age —the quirky character of Father Mulcahy from the TV series M*A*S*H might come to mind. Chaplain Alyssa Adreani of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, as a female multi-faith cleric, laughs at that outdated image. As Adreani, 41, likes to point out, isn’t hanging out in the Newton hospital’s chapel and doesn’t wear a collar or a cross. She makes the rounds of the neonatal intensive care unit, oncology, ICU, orthopedics, and medical/surgical units, following her personal Golden Rule of chaplaincy: “Wear comfortable shoes.” The Globe spoke with Adreani about how hospital chaplains are considered part of the treatment team, sometimes even improving health outcomes.

“Early on in my training, I would get questions like, ‘Are you a priest? A nun?’ I would get flustered, but then realized that people are curious. Then they would say, ‘You don’t look like a chaplain,’ to which I would reply, ‘What does a chaplain look like?’ I did learn the hard way not to wear a black suit to work. I once wore one and the patient saw me and turned white, as if I was preparing for their death bed.

“To become a board certified chaplain requires a rigorous preparation process that includes 1,600 hours of clinical training and ministry. One of my first days of my internship, I walked into a patient room, and she was crying, and said, ‘Why is God punishing me?’ I got thrown into the deep end right away on that one.

“Life’s most significant events regularly occur in the hospital. I do deal mostly with death, illness or decline, but I also visit the maternity units. It is an incredible blessing to see both ends of the spectrum. I’m really lucky to work at a hospital where spiritual care is valued. That said, people may misunderstand what a chaplain does or does not do. For example, patients may worry that a chaplain will judge them or try to convert them — that’s definitely not what we are about. We also, unfortunately, can’t perform miracles.

Learn more about the ministry of Episcopal healthcare chaplains here.

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2 Responses to "The work of the hospital chaplain at the intersection of life and death"
  1. Hospice Chaplains are only privileged to see the end of life with patients and families, but occasionally are allowed to see the begining of new life within a family as another ends. We are gifted to experience affirmation of faith, faith renewed, and different spirituality expressed as we visit patients and families. There is definitely a correlation between hospital chaplains and hospice chapalins. I hope you will address the life and gifts of both as you move forward.

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