pastoral care team member comforting praying man

How Pastoral Care Helps Families Keep Faith Alive

They are there when families and patients need comfort beyond the valuable treatments a medical team can provide. They hold hands, they pray, they listen — and they provide the compassionate voice of health care.

Hospital chaplains everywhere are being honored during Pastoral Care Week, which is Oct. 22–28 this year.

“Pastoral/spiritual care is important for people’s sense of identity, as they find meaning in belonging to a common humanity and particular cultures,” the Congress on Ministries in Specialized Settings said in a press release. “The idea of our sharing a preciousness as human beings has found its source in religious, philosophical and societal communities.”

The chaplains of Texas Health’s Pastoral Care team see much and do much, and this week we thought we’d talk to two who spend their days keeping the faith with patients who need a compassionate ear—Matthew Calvert, who is the Director of Faith & Spirituality Integration, and Trish Matthews, the manager of pastoral care at Texas Health Denton.

 

How long have you been involved in pastoral care with Texas Health?

Calvert: “I have been in Texas Health Pastoral Care in various capacities since 2010. I am currently Director of Faith & Spirituality Integration, with primary support to the Pastoral Care Department at Texas Health Dallas.”

Matthews: “I have been a chaplain with Texas Health for 16 years. I worked eight and a half years in Plano and now have been the manager in Denton for seven and a half years. One week after I began my work in Plano was 9/11, so I was quickly integrated into the needs of the community.”

 

Sometimes the day can be tough — you probably see people when life seems at its toughest. What do you do to prepare yourself for that sort of thing?

Calvert: “The image of Pastoral Care that guides my work in my role as a chaplain is the gospel parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In the parable, an injured person is left for dead at the side of the road, and the neighbor is ‘The one who showed him mercy.’

“When I meet patients and their family members, I am reminded that my role is to show mercy and compassion, listen intently, and be present with them at the moment.”

Matthews: “Well, I have learned as I have gotten older that I cannot take things home with me. I prepare by resting well when I am off, doing things that restore my spirit like working in my garden and reading and going to movies.

“I also believe that each chaplain needs to deal with their own ‘stuff’ so that it doesn’t interfere with their work, so I am in ongoing supportive therapy.

“I spend time with friends and family, participate in church, and have a time of daily devotional reading and journaling. But in the moment of a crisis, I try to take a deep breath and be in the present moment, offering myself to those in need with a prayerful spirit.”

 

What are some of the rewards of your job?

Calvert: “In health care, so many times we never know the rest of the story. I find great joy when a patient or family member reaches out and shares what has happened since we met in the hospital setting.”

Matthews: “Without a doubt, the reward of this job is the people I meet and am honored to be able to walk a difficult path with during an illness, especially at the time of death. I am so blessed to be able to support and offer compassion to staff and patients/guests alike.

“I really appreciate that at Texas Health pastoral care is part of the fabric of our work and I am involved in leadership, committees, community events, the morning safety huddle – you name it, we are there.

“I also really appreciate that we are here for people of all faiths, knowing that everyone in the hospital will experience some degree of spiritual need.”

 

Can you describe a typical day?

Calvert: “In my current role, most of my time is spent supporting the pastoral care staff in my administrative duties.”

Matthews: “Wow, that would be hard. I have always said that one thing about working in a hospital is that you come to work and never know what a day will hold.

“But a typical day would be, for me, getting in early to do pre-surgery visits, getting my patient list ready for the day, going to the safety huddle, meeting with my CPE student, visiting patients, going to meetings, doing office administrative work, caring for staff—and then in the midst of all that are the crises, worship services, planning, overseeing our aquarium and healing garden, being in Arlington on the palliative care design team, teaching classes through the Oates Institute and for Faith Community Nursing, presenting our department at orientation, facilitating our Attending Clergy Association and staying in touch with local clergy, overseeing our six PRN chaplains and Eucharistic ministers and lots of other things I am sure I am forgetting.”

 

Texas Health’s emphasis on the faith component of healing is in keeping with its new commitment to the Blue Zone tenets, including the one of “Belonging”. The Blue Zone Power 9 are based on research of five areas of the globe where people regularly live to 100.

“All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community,” the Blue Zone website explains. “Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.”

Texas Health knows that patients and families come from diverse backgrounds and religions. The pastoral care staff compassionately nurtures spirits regardless, and honors and respects all beliefs that bring hope to anyone they’re called to assist.

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