I delivered the following address at the COVID-19 Candlelight Service service at Forrest General Hospital, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on March 11, 2021, marking the one-year anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 in Mississippi:
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love… – Romans 8:35, 37-38, NLT.
We are here today to look back and remember, to look around in unity, and to look forward in hope.
We look back and remember. We look at our calendars, and we remember that one year ago today, the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Mississippi. We look back over that year, and remember those who died, those who
survived, their families and friends, and how all of us have been affected. Let us reflect back at how all of us have been changed, in ways often painful, but we are not defeated– “overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” So we light a candle to remember.
We look around in unity. We look around this room, look at our co-workers, look to our families and our community, and we see that we are standing together. We are all unique individuals, but we come together, because we have a
common calling to care for people. In a few minutes, we will light candles together. Let us look around and draw strength from one another. “Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” So we light a candle in unity.
We look forward in hope. We look forward, just as the darkness is broken at dawn by the rising sun. In a few weeks, we will celebrate Easter, when we who are Christians celebrate the rising of the Son of God. We have many reasons for hope. Amazingly, in less than a year since the first case of COVID, there are now three vaccines available, the number of virus cases is declining, and look at us—we are still here. We have made it “through the valley of the shadow of death.” So we light a candle of hope.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. – Psalm 23:4, KJV
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
When I was in the seventh grade, Dad was stationed at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York, in order to attend a nine-month Army Chaplain’s School. Almost every family on the post was there because of a chaplain attending the school. That meant all of the kids were “preacher’s kids,” and all of the families were new, because we would be transferred after a year and a whole new group would come the following school year. The school year was 1970-71. We could see the twin towers of the original World Trade Center under construction across the Hudson River. I went to Public School 104, which was in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood. It was a good school, with strict discipline and excellent academics.
Soon after school started that fall, we learned that on Wednesday afternoons they had “release time.” This was when students got out of school early and could go to their house of worship for religious education, if they wished. On that first Wednesday, all of us Protestant chaplains’ kids, being brand new, simply followed our Catholic friends down the street to their church and went to catechism. Then we returned to school in time to catch the Army bus back to Fort Hamilton.
Needless to say, the phones were ringing off the hook that night when we started telling our parents what kind of notebooks the nuns wanted us to buy for catechism. It only took one week for those chaplains and spouses to organize a Protestant religious education class for us to attend.
But what really got some parents rattled was what happened to my little sister Nancy and some of her friends during their first “release time.” Nancy, who was in second grade, and a few other Protestant chaplains’ daughters, went to the Catholic class but they missed the bus ride home. Their parents had the military police frantically searching the streets of New York for them. Imagine: little girls from places like Kansas, Texas and Mississippi, all lost on the streets of Brooklyn! When the girls were found, they didn’t know they had been lost.
Jesus said that he came to seek and save people who were lost (Luke 19:10). He told parables about a lost sheep, lost coin, and lost (prodigal) son, to illustrate how God goes to great lengths to find people (see Luke 15). Many don’t even know they are lost.
Ironically, my sister Nancy now lives in Brooklyn. She lives there with her husband Alex, and she rides the subway like a native. She doesn’t get lost there anymore; it’s her home. Likewise, when people turn to faith in Christ, they too are no longer lost. Like my sister, they have found their home at last.
(This story will be part of my upcoming book about taking a humorous yet serious look at the Christian life, called, Standing by the Wrong Graveside.)
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.
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.
A House Put in Order, by J. Brian Broome, is an entertaining paranormal novel of a prison chaplain who must deal with the disaster in his prison just before Halloween, when a Wiccan inmate summons an evil spirit to get revenge on the deputy warden.
Although the book depicts a Christian chaplain responding to evil spirits, the book is not preachy. In fact, he is very respectful toward other religious faiths. That is not to say that he doesn’t include some enlightening insights, such as the comment in chapter 11, “When a man is beaten down by his pain, well, let’s just say pain doesn’t know religious affiliation.”
The author is a retired prison chaplain, and anybody who has spent time in the prison system will recognize how realistic his descriptions are. His characters are also realistic, and at times, humorous. (For example, in chapter 17, the chaplain reflects on an inmate who argued that since he was a new person in Christ, he should be set free from prison. The chaplain’s brilliant reply was to remind him that Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, and added, “Your soul may belong to God, but right now your body belongs to Caesar.”)
After setting up characters and building the plot early in the book, the plot picks up pace and rushes straight to a ending that will keep you reading. Some might say the plot is a bit predictable toward the end, or at least it goes the way the reader would hope, although not entirely; you will certainly want to keep reading to find out how it ends. This book would make a great summer read, and a fantastic read around Halloween.
(This guest blog is by my father, retired Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Robert H. Rogers, pictured here in 1969 with our family before he left for Vietnam, and as he looks today, with my mother. Here my Dad reflects upon Memorial Day through the harsh experiences of his first days as a chaplain in the Vietnam War. I appreciate my father’s service to our country. It was a great sacrifice for him and our family, as we spent a year apart from him while he was at war, and my mom had to take care of me, in the sixth grade, and my younger brother, Todd, and sister, Nancy. It was 1969-1970.)
I have many memories. Just a few days after I had arrived in Vietnam as a relatively young Army Chaplain, I was introduced to the reality of war. I flew out to a forward base in a helicopter and was dropped off with the expectation that I would come back to our base on the resupply helicopter later that day. But that helicopter never came because of a fire fight the company got into with a contingent of the North Vietnamese army. It was away from the compound where I and a few of the company waited. During this fight, the company commander and several others were killed. So after spending the night there I was asked to have a memorial service for those who had lost their lives. I did so even though I was totally unprepared both mentally and emotionally. That was the first of many memorial services I conducted during my year in Vietnam. I remember these and those who have died in all of our wars.
I also remember the sacrifice of those who fought but survived. I have some church friends who are veterans of Word War II. One of them spent about 24 hours floating with his life jacket after the ship he was on was shot out from under him. I remember his service and many others like him. I am grateful to them and to God for the free country we live in.