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Category Archives: Ministry

Guest blog post: “Dead… and yet I see”

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Article copyright by Brian A. Williamson

(Brian A. Williamson is a hospital chaplain and former pastor in Mississippi. He shares the following reflection on a funeral and on a hospital visit he made with a dying patient, which I found thought-provoking. He follows the reflection with a poem. Feel free to share your comments below.)

 

I recently attended the funeral of my dear friend Jack’s beloved wife of more than 30 years—Paula. Paula, too, was a close friend of mine, but not like Jack. I’ve told people many times about Jack’s faithful service as a devoted deacon of the first church I served as pastor. Being with Jack in this setting was different… Many times before Jack and I sat with others in a funeral setting, but usually he was the one walking around and ministering to others in the room. He was clearly uncomfortable on this occasion with all the attention he was receiving by those coming to pay their respects and offer condolences—a mark of an incredibly humble man. On this day, I saw no tears fall from his eyes while I marveled at his faith—he clearly knew that his wife’s final hope was realized.

Paula’s casket was beautiful; the drape of orchids, hydrangea, and white with light blue roses was the prettiest I’d ever seen on a casket. The colors of the flowers provided the eyes with a visual symphony in perfect pitch…and all of this matched the colors of the sanctuary of that little country church beautifully; and I thought, “Paula would smile if she could see all of this…” And then it hit me—I wonder, “what if she can?”       I looked to and fro amongst all us mourners and supporters, contemplating this thought with a different curiosity than ever before. I thought, she’d cry at her own funeral—there were people everywhere sitting with this family, to support them and mourn with them over the loss of “the Queen of Banana Pudding” as she is known in the church. Paula isn’t used to this much attention, and I imagine she’d be uncomfortable with all this, too. Hmmm… I wonder, “What do dead people see?”

 

Flashback—I visited a terminal cancer patient in the hospital months ago who told me her only prayer request since being given a terminal diagnosis was to ask God to let her live long enough to see her first grandchild being born. Tearfully, she acknowledged the looming reality that she was dying faster than her daughter’s pregnancy was progressing. Several family members sat somberly with this woman as she lamented her death and God’s flat denial of her request. “Why would God take this from me?” she asked, seeming to genuinely hope that I had a great answer… But, I didn’t. Then she asked, “Do you think God will let me see my granddaughter’s birth even though I’m dead?”

I’d never considered a question the likes of this one before. Is it answerable? I pondered what it might be like once dead; is there Scripture to support such a notion? As I pondered the question further, her family began to offer her spiritual condolences… “Everything’s gonna be ok, why you won’t even care about us…things will be so beautiful in heaven that you won’t even think about us” said one man in a wheelchair. Another chimed in, “That’s right—you’ll just be worshipping the Lord, and you’ll be so consumed by his majesty that you’ll forget about us altogether…” Still another, “When you get to heaven, your sense of time will be like a warp or something; you won’t even think of being in a different place cause when you blink, we’ll all be there with you.” (Really? I thought…you gotta be kiddin’ me!) I thought more about the woman’s question…it was simple…yes or no…no other explanation needed.

YES” I said; and the room fell quiet instantly, as if someone had thrown open the hatch in space and the vacuum sucked all the wind and words out of the room. My eyes were locked into the dying woman’s eyes as I had come to this conclusion, communicating my sincere faith in my response. She locked her eyes on mine as seconds passed in slow motion—she was processing. She looked interested and hopeful, and I repeated, “Yes. I do think that God will allow you to see the birth of your granddaughter even though you are dead.”

The others in the room leaned back as if lightning was about to strike me as God “took me out” for such heresy. I continued with my thoughts out loud: “It seems to me that God understands the beauty of birth, for God created it; and, God knows the love you have for your daughter as well as your love for the unborn child. If God formed this life and longs for her to spring from her mother’s womb, and I believe that you believe it is so; then, I’m certain that his love for you would not deny you the joy of such an anticipated event that is overflowing with hope and love from you. Because of his love, I believe he will allow you to see what He will see on that blessed day. Even though you will be dead, you will be alive by faith. You’re death won’t make you blind—you will still see. I don’t know how it will work, but I believe it will be so. You and your family will celebrate your granddaughter’s birth together—of this, I have no doubt.”

She held her breath for in silence; then, she believed and exhaled. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted off the woman’s shoulders. Her mourning tears became happy tears, and the anticipation of the new birth again gave her hope. No one had ever considered the possibility that God had already granted this grieving woman’s prayer request because she continued to die; but, God had.

Though “in Adam” we all die; yet, “in Christ” we all live! In Christ we live and move [and hope] and have our being! In Christ, this woman will live to see the birth of her prized and much-anticipated grandchild! “Dead, and yet I see!” will be her anthem on that day. I can’t explain how it will work or what it will be like, I only know that is the truth.

Dead and yet I see

By: Chaplain Brian Williamson

 

I’m dead and yet I see, having crossed over to Promised Land,

‘Tis my home now, though it’s hard for you to understand.

Am I dead? Yes…and yet I see, for by my faith I’ve moved along,

Joyfully straining to be happy in life, while longing what lies beyond.

Now more than ever, by my hope in Christ, I see

That painful things in life make sense in eternity.

 

Dead, but now I see. I know you don’t understand,

But my life isn’t over, and I still see you from Glory Land.

God knew my love for you; and though we now live separately,

I’m closer than you think, beloved; for though I’m dead, yet I see.

 

Our God gives us hope through the promises contained in Scripture, and by faith in Him, I believe that he would never remove our love for others—if he did, He doesn’t understand.

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Book review: “Touching Heaven: Real Stories of Children, Life and Eternity”

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Touching Heaven: Real Stories of Children, Life, and Eternity by Leanne Hadley is an inspiring collection of true stories by a United Methodist minister, primarily telling the stories of dying children she met as a young chaplain in a children’s hospital. Her stories of faith are deeply moving. She opens with her own story of faith as a preacher’s daughter, and how she began to doubt her faith. Then she tells a dozen stories of the faith of children who faced their own death, and the death of her own mother. This short book concludes with a summary of lessons learned that ties together the stories well, and shows how the faith of those to whom she ministered erased her own doubts. Some of the stories of children’s faith and encounters with angelic visions are amazing, and even startling, yet there is little reason to think that she is embellishing them.
This book is encouraging to anybody facing a terminal illness, especially the terminal illness of a child. It is also a great resource for those who do hospital ministry, as Hadley models good practices, and is honestly self-effacing about her feelings of inadequacy at times to do this ministry.
I could hardly put the book down, it was so engaging. I highly recommend it.

Book review: “A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity”

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Alberts, William E. A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, 2012.

This short, easy-to-read book is a series of 54 diverse vignettes that Rev. Alberts shares about people to whom he ministered as a board-certified, CPSP hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center. He has a loving and accepting approach to all of his patients, and he models some excellent approaches and conversations to the “crossroads of humanity” who need medical care. Health care chaplains and all those who minister to the sick will relate to many stories and can learn much from his compassion and wisdom.
The book is full of touching stories and pithy quotes, such as “religion is about the Golden Rule and not about the ‘gold’ that rules,” and a patient who was transformed from “a hopeless dope addict into a dopeless hope addict.”
However, those like myself who have a conservative, deeply held personal faith will likely be distracted and even annoyed that Rev. Alberts favors those who believe that all roads lead to God, which he spells with the small “g.” He emphasizes his theological position as a Unitarian and United Methodist (more Unitarian than Methodist), and stresses his distaste for conservative politics, especially military spending. Thus it seems odd to me, as a less experienced hospital chaplain myself, that he repeatedly tells how he begins a visit by asking a person’s religious affiliation. He frequently reports that people are defensive or confused by this question, yet he continues to ask it. He even reported that patients occasionally responded with apologies for not attending church, thus showing that the question put them on the spot. Since he seems sincerely focused on serving the needs of all patients, why not just ask the patient what is happening in their lives, and let them talk about their religious affiliation if they want to do so?
The Kindle edition has a few minor errors where lines are repeated or words are missing, such as page 138.

What Bible translation should a pastor use from the pulpit?

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Copyright by Bob Rogers

What translation of the Bible is best for a pastor to use in the pulpit? Pastors and laypeople feel differently about the issue.
My Unscientific Survey
Recently I did an unscientific opinion poll on Facebook among pastors and laypeople about what Bible translation they preferred for use from the pulpit. On a Facebook page with 1,300 pastors, I asked them what translation they used in the pulpit. Then I asked laypeople on my own Facebook page, with over 2,000 friends, what translation they preferred that their pastor use (I blocked my pastor friends from seeing the post). I received 95 responses from pastors, and 48 responses from laypeople. This is an unscientific survey, since it was based on those who decided to answer, and the two Facebook groups have demographic differences, although the pastors Facebook page is dominated by conservative evangelical Christians, and most of my friends on Facebook are also conservative evangelicals. Despite that qualification, I noticed some significant results that are worth noting. Here are the results and lessons learned:
SURVEY RESULTS:
Pastors:
KJV: 31 %
NKJV: 18%
NASB: 17%
ESV: 15%
CSB: 8%
HCSB: 3%
Other: 8%
Laypeople:
KJV: 25%
NIV: 20%
NASB: 15%
ESV: 15%
HCSB: 9%
NKJV: 7%
Other: 9%
TRENDS NOTICED:
Given the unscientific nature of this survey and relatively small size of the sample, one should not read too much into this survey, but some trends should be noted:
*There is no one translation that the majority of people prefer. We live in an era in which many English translations of the Bible are available. No one translation is even close to being used by a majority of pastors or laypeople.
*The KJV is still the most popular translation, especially among pastors. The KJV was the number one answer among both groups, and half of all pastors either named the KJV or its updated version, the NKJV.
*There is a big divide between pastors and laypeople over the NIV. The NIV ranks beside the KJV in Bible sales in the USA, and this was reflected in the survey, as laypeople (who buy most of the Bibles) listed the NIV almost as much as the KJV. In contrast, almost no pastor listed the NIV. Laypeople also mentioned a greater variety of translations.
*The majority prefer that the pastor preach from a traditional, accurate translation. The KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV are traditional, literal translations of the Bible. The CSB and HCSB are also accurate, though more contemporary translations, and even the NIV is much more accurate than free translations like the NLT or paraphrases like The Message. Pastors and laypeople overwhelmingly named accurate translations as their preference for pulpit use.
LESSONS LEARNED:
I do not presume to tell a pastor how to preach, but it I believe that pastors would do well to use an accurate translation from the pulpit. It has been my experience that many church members will go out and buy or download to their device the translation that their pastor uses. So choose your translation prayerfully, and use it consistently. Know your audience– just as a Hispanic pastor will choose a Spanish translation, a pastor needs to know the kind of congregation he has, and what will best communicate God’s word accurately and effectively to his people.
While reading the text from his preferred Bible translation, pastors would also do well to mention a variety of translations from time to time from the pulpit. Doing so can help clarify passages that are hard to understand, and also reminds the congregation that all English translations come from an original text that was in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.
Pastors should not condemn church members who are reading another translation of the Bible. Public condemnation of people over their Bible translation is unkind, and may humiliate a brother or sister in Christ who sincerely wants to know God’s word. Many new believers and young Christians prefer a more contemporary translation because they have difficulty understanding more traditional translations. If you have a conviction that they are not using a good translation of the Bible, you can instruct them lovingly and privately, as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos (see Acts 18:26).

 

 

Guest post: “What a hospital chaplain learned about ICU waiting when his own father died”

Copyright 2016 by Brian Williamson

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(NOTE: Brian Williamson is an experienced hospital chaplain, but recently he experienced the other side of ministry, spending many hours in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit –ICU– as his own father died. In this post, he shares his observations, in hopes that it can help those of us who visit the sick and their families, especially those in ICU.)

These are some notes I prepared from my experiences in the ICU waiting room as a family member when my father was dying. Since I work extensively in this area as a hospital chaplain, the new experience from a personal perspective has given me insights into how I can better minister to folks going through something like this. Since my observations are filled with my own feelings, they could be negatively or positively impacted by what I’m feeling and/or experiencing. I’ve offered them to my friend and co-worker, Bob Rogers to share with others. My hope is that they will be insightful and helpful to others. So, take them for what you think they’re worth.
1. ICU family members (yes, I was guilty!)  are pivoting/hinging on every little idea of their loved one getting better. You want your loved one to “be” better, so if something is “a little better” (such as a lab result, an O2 sat, blood gas, etc.) then you accentuate that and project it to everything else. This may not be the case… (“He squeezed my hand, so I know he’s getting better!” “The kidneys are looking good.” Some nurses might say, “the numbers are a little better today,” or “We turned the O2 down to 60%, so that’s a little better…” {never mind the tea-colored urine, the 9 medicines in the IV bags, the ventilator set on “C-full control” and the doctor is just hoping that you won’t have to turn it back up, etc., etc.})

2. People in the waiting room—family members, staff, pastors, etc.—tell you what to believe and what to say; and you’re usually polite enough to not slap them when they do; or to argue with them, because you know they won’t understand.

3. There is no shortage of people who want to tell you what it’s like for them. They ask you what’s going on with your loved one, but then they interrupt you to tell you “their story.” When they finish, they usually have forgotten that they haven’t heard your story.

4. Very few people really want to hear your story or talk about your memories; or what’s important to you. Fallacious clichés such as, “I know how you feel” and “I know what that’s like” are the status quo. The reality is that people in the ICU waiting room have their own pain and struggles to deal with. You feel connected to them; but, when your story starts to “go south,” they distance from you as if what you’re experiencing is contagious. If you’re loved one begins to worsen, they leave you alone and whisper to other waiting room people about what’s happening with your patient.

5. Many preachers, ministers, etc., form circles with families that block traffic in the middle of the aisles, then pray loudly—and pray, and pray and pray. Most of them leave after the prayer, and then it’s very interesting what people talk about after the minister leaves.

6. When someone is on the ventilator they have to be sedated (usually). The sedation helps keep the person relaxed so the machine can be beneficial. BUT…what I didn’t know is that every 12 hrs, the sedation has to be turned off in order to “let the person wake up a little bit.” This test helps the hospital be aware of mental changes. During the time the sedation is off, the nurse assesses the patient’s ability to respond to instructions like “squeeze my fingers,” “blink your eyes,” “wiggle your toes,” etc. In other words, you awake every 12 hrs to a tube down your throat that makes you cough and gag, you become just awake enough to know you’re not able to breathe. This can be quite punishing to the patient.

7. Silence is golden. Nurses work hard at saying the right thing and “keeping you company,” which is very special and sometimes greatly appreciated; but, I think that being quiet while being with someone is usually more valuable as their loved one is dying. One of the best questions I heard a nurse ask was, “Would you like some privacy or would you like me to stay with you a little longer?” The worst question I heard was asked by a nurse as I sat in a chair in the pod outside my dad’s room, just after his death… “Uh, you’re the chaplain, right? Well, I was wondering, “How do you feel about monogamy in marriage?”

8. Always visiting during visiting hours may not be the best idea for clergy members. Families get precious few minutes every few hours that could end up being the last minutes they have with their loved one alive. Experiment with waiting room visits followed by in-room visits. I suggest taking someone for a walk around the building, to the canteen, to the coffee shop or somewhere outside. If they ask you to “go back” with them, then go. If not, don’t.

9. There’s lots of praying going on, even though you can’t hear it.

(This is Bob again. From reading Brian’s observations, five lessons come to mind for ministry to families in ICU waiting rooms: 1. Be quiet and really listen, 2. Don’t offer pat answers, 3. Keep vocal prayers soft and short,  4. Don’t be afraid of silence, and 5. Don’t abandon them when they hurt the most. What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.)

Guest blog post: Expressing Sympathy During the Holidays

Suzie_Kolber_Obits (Below is a guest blog by Suzie Kolber on the subject of how to express sympathy during the holidays, which can be a difficult time for those who have recently lost a loved one. Suzie is a writer at ObituariesHelp.org. The site is a complete guide for someone seeking help for writing words of condolences, sympathy messages, condolence letters and funeral planning resources.)

The holidays can be such a fun, exciting time for most people. However, for those who have recently lost a family member or close friend, it can be a difficult, painful time. Everywhere they look, something reminds them of prior holidays spent with that person.

Depression is a common problem during this season for people who have lost their loved ones. If the anniversary of the death or the person’s birthday falls during this time, it can make the brightest days seem dark.

Avoidance

Many bereaved people tend to avoid others during this time. They don’t socialize or go out because they see the festivities as another painful reminder of their loss. On the other hand, friends and family members may tend to avoid the bereaved person because they don’t know what to say. It feels awkward to be around them and try to hide their natural excitement for the season.

While it is natural to want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the isolation only contributes more to the feelings of depression and loneliness. Family members and friends need to be aware of this and continue interacting with their grieving loved one.

What To Say

It’s normal to want to avoid someone when you don’t know what to say to them. However, your support and sympathy is needed, especially when someone suffers such a loss around the holiday season. The following tips will help you offer the comfort that is needed.

  • Offer assistance for the person who still has to organize the holiday celebration even though they are grieving. For instance, someone may have lost a spouse but has children who want to celebrate. They may need help with cleaning, cooking or even shopping.
  • Invite someone to your home for the holidays, especially if you are having a low-key celebration. This allows them to get out without being overwhelmed by the activities.
  • Invite the loved one to volunteer with you. Doing something like creating gift baskets for soldiers can help a person feel useful and remind them that they are not alone. Others may be missing loved ones for different reasons.
  • Be willing to talk about the deceased. Your job may be as simple as listening as the person relives fond memories. While you may think it would bring sadness to talk about the person who is gone, it can actually be helpful. The person is thinking about them anyway; talking provides healing.

If the person lives far away and you can’t visit during the holiday season, it is appropriate to send a flower or gift basket. You don’t need to wish them “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Instead, include a card that says that you are thinking of them. Just this reminder and a few lovely flowers can brighten their day.

Anytime is a bad time to lose a loved one. Suffering the loss during the holidays makes the pain even more severe for many. Reach out to those people and they will appreciate the comfort that you provide.