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Chaplaincy rewarding for minister and patients

Shenandoah Memorial Hospital chaplain Richard Craver sits and chats with Emma Smith of Mount Jackson in her hospital room. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Sam Taff -- Daily Correspondent

Hospitals provide a great service, but it's hard to find people who enjoy being there to visit patients.

For the Rev. Richard Craver and other members of the Shenandoah Memorial Hospital Chaplaincy, spending time at the hospital is rewarding. Pastors volunteer every day to sit with patients who need to talk, who need to confess, who need a prayer or just need some company.

Men and women of the cloth have been visiting every day since the program was reinstated at the hospital in the early 1970s. The hospital sees the program as an integral part of patient care. The comfort of a pastor in the room means a lot to the staff.

Pastors take rotating shifts to make sure someone is available 24 hours a day. Most of the work involved is lending an ear and giving comfort to ill patients.

"I find it enjoyable. It can be hard and difficult. Sometimes it is great to hear the faith journeys of others," Craver explained.

Besides comforting the ill, pastors also have been called into duty to offer counseling to hospital staff when a traumatic incident shakes up some of the nurses and doctors.

"When you get a call in the middle of the night you know it isn't good," Craver said. Offering a gentle spirit is what this work is all about.

Most people do not even know about the program. There is a lot of work that goes into this behind the scenes. Not any pastor is allowed into the chaplaincy. Pastors must go through a screening process, and the program offers training to those ministers interested in joining the volunteer program.

"We are offering training in September to anyone who is interested," Craver explained.
There is a limit of 15 pastors in the program. There are only 11 signed up so far.

"We cover the hospital 24/7 and we each take a week, but the week is divided in half," Craver said. "We typically spend about two hours in the hospital each day, but we are on call as needed and the hospital would call us if they see a need."

Contrary to what one might think, there is not a lot of work in the emergency room, "unless there are serious injuries."

"When there is a death, the staff themselves have to talk and we provide a listening ear," Craver said. There have been occasions when a pastor will meet with the staff to offer comfort after a tragedy.

When pastors visit with many patients each day its important for those pastors to be able to approach each patient differently. Pastors in the program are encouraged to keep their talk generic. "We don't try to promote any denomination in any form. We try to approach in a general way. But there are times when we have to be specific," Craver said.

Although there is a schedule, the program does allow for requests from patients if they are in need of special services provided by one denominational pastor.

Craver said he remembers a painful time in the birthing center at the hospital. "There was a couple who knew their newborn wasn't going to live and we offered a baptism when the child was born. So we found a pastor who believed in that and was able to offer that service," Craver said.

The hospital also offers a chapel for family members who need private time.

"Any costs for the program are covered by the hospital," Craver said. He added that they run the program very well and are very accommodating.

In recent years, the program has branched out to many denominations and offers Bibles as well as other books for other faiths not commonly found in the area. "The Gideons have been generous and given us Bibles for those who need one," Craver mentioned.

Craver has other duties as well, he is pastor at Maurertown Brethren Church. He joined the chaplaincy at the hospital in 1984. He is currently coordinator of the program.

Pastor who would like to join the program can contact the hospital or Craver at his church office at 436-9446.

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