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The crucial, yet understated, role chaplains have played during the pandemic

chaplins pandemic
Posted at 1:55 PM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 13:44:57-05

DENVER, Colorado — Adversity has a way of knocking us off our intended path. For many doctors, nurses, and first responders, the uncertainty of the pandemic has made them feel as if they're lost in the woods — far away from the calling that first brought them to their career.

"When we get burned out, there's this sort of surreptitious trick with burnout that causes us to forget why we do what we do every day and what we love about our job," said Rev. Mike Guthrie, the director of spiritual care at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s & Rocky Mountain Children Hospital in Denver.

"I just had to try to help connect people back to calling back to purpose, why they're here," he said.

"I think there's been a rise in people asking the big questions, you know, 'Where do I go when I die? What's going to happen?'" said Mike Neil, the president of the Washington State Chaplain Foundation.

Guthrie is a hospital chaplain and Neil, recently retired, has been a law enforcement chaplain. Both men have been doing this work for nearly 20 years.

"It's called a ministry of presence," said Neil.

Their job is to be present for patients, victims, and their colleagues when their jobs get too heavy, whether that's through a conversation about faith or just being there to listen.

However, being "present" has been tough these last two years.

"We all feel like we're a prizefighter with our hands tied behind her back. Everybody's wearing a mask, try to relate to someone that you can't see their face. You can't see their facial expressions," said Neil.

"We walk this tension between wanting to support our patients, but also having these restrictions in place to protect everybody else from accidental exposure," said Guthrie.

A tight line to walk, but the emotional and spiritual support they have been offering through these tough times has never been more important.

"We will never go back to being the same person we were before COVID hit. I think the lifelong lessons in the impact and experiences that we've been through over the last two years, and continue to go through, will change us in a lasting way," said Guthrie, "and the goal is to make sure that that change is done in a healing way."

For these chaplains, and chaplains across the country, these last two years, though hard, have made them more sure than ever in their own vocation to their jobs, being the heroes to our heroes.

"It's been my calling. That's why I did it in the beginning, it's not for me, it's not for me in my soul, but it's for them," said Neil.