By Jennifer Johnson
When the chaplain of Decatur (IL) Memorial Hospital retired after 25 years of service, Wayne Kent, lead pastor at First Christian Church in Decatur, got an idea.
“I approached the hospital leadership because this kind of hire is different from what they normally do,” he says. “I told them we could help with the process—or they could just ask us to do it.”
With that, Kent began a series of conversations with the hospital administration that resulted in First Christian “just doing it”—evaluating applicants for the chaplaincy position, hiring the chaplain, and expanding the program to provide round-the-clock care for both patients and employees.
“We hired a board-certified chaplain named Robert Henderson who works at the hospital as an employee of our church,” Kent says. “We also recruited a team of other professional and volunteer chaplains so we have a constant presence there. Robert created a 30-hour training program to prepare new people to serve.”
A volunteer is at the hospital at 7 a.m. to check patient rosters, and Henderson arrives shortly after that to connect with patients before surgeries. Additional teams of people rotate in throughout the day and overnight.
“This is organized and it’s serious,” Kent says. “The hospital is paying us to manage it well.”
It’s also an opportunity to build relationships with the hospital staff.
“Patients leave but staff don’t,” Kent says. “So we want to minister to the doctors, nurses, and their teams, as well. When a patient they’ve worked with for two weeks passes away, the chaplains are there to help the caregivers work through those emotions.”
The church has invested, literally and figuratively, in other ways, designating $25,000 to the program in addition to the funds it receives from the hospital, and offering a program in clinical pastoral education. Both First Christian and Decatur Memorial signed a one-year contract in January 2014 and, due to the success of the program, recently extended it for another three years.
“We don’t try to ‘brand’ our church or make it about us,” Kent says. “This isn’t about promoting our congregation, it’s about doing ministry, and as long as we can connect people with God, we’ve done our job.”