A challenging time to start being a chaplain.

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When Hope and I were talking about how to finish the book ( God. We Still Need You: A Year of Pandemic Prayer and Practice From a Hospital Chaplain.), some kind of afterword made sense. And when we started talking about who to ask, Hope said, “What about Jana?”

Hope and Jana met a long time ago. Their older brothers played club soccer in middle school. Hope and Jana had to go to the games. They talked some, they read more. Now they are part of the same book.

Their parents met even longer ago, in the Lamaze class for those older brothers. Their mothers had met even longer before that, when one was in grad school and the other was working at that grad school. Eventually, their dads played soccer together briefly in an over-40 mens B league indoor soccer league.

There are stories, of course, about those earlier days, but no one wants to linger in “I knew you when” stories. Because Hope and Jana are now the adults.

Hope suggested Jana, in part, because Jana started working as a chaplain just after this book starts, in December 2019. It’s helpful to listen to the account of a person growing in their understanding of how to be the best possible help in the worst times in people’s lives.

In our hospital system, a chaplain responds to every death, talking with the family and staff about funeral homes and coroner calls and grief and next steps. As an on-call chaplain, Jana showed up in the middle of the night to care and coordinate. She covered shifts at two of our hospitals as needed, and started learning another hospital.

Learning all of those things as protocols began changing daily is a significant challenge. (One of our long-term chaplains said that it felt like she was a brand-new chaplain.)

Hope suggested it, but I agreed completely. When you read her story, you will, too.

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Here’s a taste from the Afterword:

December 2019, a couple weeks after Jon started writing the prayers in this book, I became a Parkview Hospital chaplain. In our department, we often say chaplaincy is a calling. That was definitely the case for me, as I never wanted to work in a hospital. Honestly, the thought of blood and needles makes me cringe. I had been building a counseling ministry at a local church for the last five years and was just about to pass my test to become a licensed mental health counselor. My job of overseeing care ministries at the church was literally designed for me, but through a series of events, conversations, and promptings, God showed me He had other plans for my future. In October I applied to be a chaplain and started referring to the transition as a “new adventure” that only God could be leading. I had no idea what an adventure my first year in chaplaincy would be.

I had been used to meeting with people to process their darkest moments in life as a counselor. When I became a chaplain, suddenly my job was to be with people during those dark moments. A chaplain’s role is to step into the deaths, traumas, anxieties, and unknowns with patients, families, and staff to offer a calming and empathetic presence. We help people navigate a range of unknowns. In my first couple months, even those procedures that were known to other staff were still unknown to me. I went into almost every shift with some level of anxiety wondering what difficult situation I would encounter during my eight to twelve hours there.

At the end of February, 2020, I was finally feeling more comfortable. And when I say “comfortable,” I mean I didn’t start every shift with a pit in my stomach, fervently hoping and praying for no catastrophes to occur while I was there! I will never be able to account for all the unknowns one faces in the hospital, but I’d been around long enough that I had a sense of what I was doing and who I could go to when I had questions. At that time, I was able to tell my family and friends I enjoyed what I did with some semblance of confidence. The following month, that confidence wavered as the pandemic came to our hospital system.

The policies and procedures I had begun to grasp changed drastically. Instead of walking the newly familiar hallways and units, we started calling patient rooms from our office. I had learned the etiquette of comforting families in the lobby or consult room and escorting them to bedside. Now, I had to inform them of the current visitation policy and offer condolences from afar. The weight and reality of unknowns both intensified and multiplied. Not only was I unsure of how to conduct myself at work, but then I would go home and try to navigate how to interact with my family and the rest of the world. None of us knew what to do or how to handle all the changes. Or what to do with the fear and questions of whether I could bring the virus home with me.

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For more of Jana’s story, and the rest of the prayers, see  God. We Still Need You: A Year of Pandemic Prayer and Practice From a Hospital Chaplain..

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