West Michigan’s hospital chaplains offering spiritual support during times of uncertainty

Posted at 6:32 AM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-21 09:03:34-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The job of a hospital chaplain certainly looks a bit different from doctors and nurses, but for many it is an important role on the front line against COVID-19.

Jessica Bratt-Carle is a chaplain at Spectrum Health and is one of many who work day-and-night providing spiritual and emotional support throughout hospitals.

Usually, chaplains visit with patients and family members in their rooms. But now they are forced to adapt: "Phone calls. People have really appreciated it and valued knowing someone is still there for that kind of emotional support, because people can’t have visitors right now."

Bratt-Carle says chaplains are there to listen, be present, and walk through tough times with patients, and that includes doctors and nurses as well. "Supporting our staff is paramount if we want to continue to provide healing for patients and families. We need the healers to be resilient and supported. Tapping into the deep sense of purpose that brought them to their healthcare role has been really vital in this situation, and just affirming and validating the concerns people have."

The work of a chaplain is often unseen, but powerful and always there.

"I would say most of time when you ask somebody what else can I do to support you, they’ll say pray for me, keep me in your prayers,” Bratt-Carle explained. “I think prayer also crosses a lot of spiritual and religious lines, knowing that it is an abundant resource that is always available to you. Especially in times when you feel like our ability to change things or your sense of control feels so limited, we can pray, and that is comforting to people who are on the receiving end of that."

Bratt-Carle also says it's normal to feel like your faith is being tested right now.

"Being with people in the midst of their doubt and their fear and affirming that it's okay and their faith life can encompass that too, I think can be really liberating for people. Because we need to be able to wrestle with things to be able to find comfort in them as well. Even before all of this, in more or less ordinary times a health crisis or an economic crisis especially, when you combine those things with so many layers that affect everybody you have situations that can really test peoples sense of faith. What I thought I always believed in doesn’t seem to be enough right now or can I really trust these beliefs that I built my life around. And as with any crisis it causes people to really question that, but there’s often some real gifts in that, where people dig deeper and discover a new side of their faith. It gives them new eyes to see what’s important to them, what really matters, what parts of their life they want to hang onto.”

Even in this time of uncertainty, Bratt-Carle's work remains constant: offer hope.