Texas Baptists support four health care partners in the state, as well as endorse chaplains to selflessly serve in roles around the world, bring God’s love and hope to the people to whom they minister. With the rise of COVID-19, these chaplains face new challenges as they continue to minister to healthcare workers, patients and families.
In Beaumont, the COVID-19 virus is only beginning to make itself known. David Cross, director of Pastoral Care for Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas and a Texas Baptists ordained chaplain, explained that even though the virus is not widely present in the city, the hospitals must treat every person who walks through their doors as a potential carrier of the virus due to lack of testing. Visitors have been restricted and are only allowed in extreme circumstances. Chaplains are unable to have direct contact with any patients who may have the virus due to insufficient safety tools, such as masks.
These circumstances have led to a heavier emphasis on healthcare worker ministry, as they are now the most widely accessible group. Furthermore, these workers face a harder workplace environment in addition to adjusting to a changing society.
“There is a great deal of stress in our caregivers as they help the patients with professionalism, while also dealing with personal crises like kids at home, spouses out of work and other new difficulties,” Cross explained.
Cross has seen God’s provision even at this early stage in the crisis. Harmony Baptist Church in Vidor donated 19 cases of masks that they had leftover from Hurricane Harvey to the hospital. Within the 19 cases, there were a total of 4,560 masks. Cross urged local Baptist associations and churches to look through their own stocks to see if they have any medical supplies that could be donated to hospitals.
In addition to the supplies, Cross also asked churches to be praying for the chaplains and healthcare workers during this stressful time. He urged people to remember to thank and reach out to hospital workers, including those who are not getting as much praise, like the technicians, janitors and administration. They are all risking exposure to COVID-19 as they continue to serve patients. Lastly, Cross asked for prayer for the senior hospital administration, who face new and uncharted problems in the days ahead.
For the hospitals in Dallas, COVID-19 cases have already inundated the hospitals. Mark Grace, chief of Mission and Ministry at Baylor Scott and White Health, explained that the outbreak has moved along as it was predicted. With this increase in patients has come an increasing number of meetings each day. While Grace is excited about the new numbers of spiritual conversations people are seeking to have, he expressed regret about the reason behind the need.
“Real tragedy is happening now and I feel the weight of it. Real people are hurting. And I believe we are called to join God in responding to these tragedies with compassion and love,” he said.
Ministering to COVID-19 patients is done through video chat because of infection risks. Many of the new spiritual meetings are with staff, who are facing new challenges, both at work and home. Grace explained that the situation is very isolating, for patients, healthcare workers and even the chaplains.
“They’re engaging in a work that has become significantly more dangerous in the past two weeks,” he said. “On the one hand, I’ve had lots of people reaching out and asking what they can do to help. Emails, texts and other consistent reminders of your love and prayers are needed more now than ever. But I’ve talked to some chaplains whose extended family members or friends are asking them not to come to their house anymore [because of the risk of infection], and are not expressing any support or concern.”
Above all, Grace wants churches to remain prayerful and engaged. The power of prayer is strong, he said, and it is a great way to minister to the community without risking infection. Furthermore, Grace wants Christians to be a strong network of support who, instead of “social distancing,” Grace prefers the term “physical distancing,” explaining that people should be physically far apart, but more connected through social and spiritual means than ever before.
“We’re called upon to be physically distant, but be more socially available than ever before, just through different means,” Grace said. “The best, practical help is prayer and reaching out to people.”
The Texas Baptists Cooperative Program supports a wide range of ministries in our state, including four hospitals/health systems providing care to thousands: Baylor Scott & White Health; Hillcrest Baptist Health Care System; Hendrick Baptist Health Care System; and Southeast Texas Baptist Hospital. In addition to the excellent work of doctors and nurses, these facilities offer care through a team of chaplains working to meet the spiritual needs of their patients.
“Texas Baptist churches can find comfort in knowing that even in an international crisis, their investment in the Cooperative Program is working hard to minister to those affected by the Covid 19 pandemic,” said Chris Liebrum, director of Cooperative Program Ministries.