By Marika H. Hull, MDiv, BCC
Over the last 25 years, Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, MA, has engaged in many and varied collaborative efforts with local clergy. Interdenominational collaboration in this economically depressed urban area has contributed significantly to the way the poor are served in the community.
The most vibrant aspect of interdenominational collaboration at Saint Anne’s occurs around the soup kitchen, which the hospital sponsors six times a year at the First Baptist Church. Of all the churches, synagogues and institutions in the area, the First Baptist Church and Saint Anne’s Hospital stand out together as being the ones most focused on the poor. The collaboration between the Baptist congregation and Saint Anne’s has been a natural, genuine, and rewarding partnership.
The First Baptist Church sponsors a weekly soup kitchen that serves between 80 and 120 people every week, all year round. Saint Anne’s sponsors six of these soup kitchens per year. The First Baptist Church provides the cooking and eating facilities, and the pastoral care staff organizes the hospital employees from various departments to contribute time and money to host the meal. The cost of each soup kitchen is about $450. The food is prepared by the hospital kitchen and offered at cost. The money is donated by various hospital departments, and the department staff then volunteers to deliver, prepare and serve the food at the kitchen. Both the dietary department and the sponsoring department enjoy the teamwork and are glad to be part of the ministry. We are never short of volunteers, and the Baptist Church members are welcoming and grateful. This has been a much appreciated ministry for the last three or four years.
The Baptist pastor serves on the hospital mission board, and has served on the CPE advisory board when the hospital had a CPE program. He continues to be a most enthusiastic collaborator. He and his staff are ready and willing to assist Baptist and other Protestant patients. There are a notable number of patients who come into the hospital with a desire to connect with their Baptist roots and have no current affiliation. Most of these patients are poor and needy. When the Catholic chaplain calls, the Baptist staff members respond quickly and eagerly with a phone call, a visit, or some form of support.
The Pastoral Care Department and the Baptist Church have also worked together on a Lenten program, which involved meetings once a week, each time on a different hospital unit. The aim of the program was to provide reflection time for the hospital staff on their units. Given the busy nature of the hospital, only a few staff members were able to participate. However, the program filled a need for our student nursing program, and was well received by the nursing students who train at the hospital and saw it as an instructive part of their curriculum.
The Spiritual Care Department has tried many different formats for collaboration. It has sponsored education series on various topics, hosted a sit-down Seder meal, and conducted interdenominational Lenten prayer series for the staff on the units. Protestant and Jewish clergy have been invited to many hospital celebrations, including past CPE and current parish nurse graduations. The spiritual care staff welcomes and encourages local clergy to visit their parishioners. Special needs are eagerly accommodated. One memorable example was a request by a Hassidic rabbi to brief the staff on Jewish ritual customs as he ministered to a dying patient.
In addition to initiating collaborative efforts, the hospital tries to be an enthusiastic participant in other collaborative efforts such as the Tenebrae Worship Service, which is held once a year, and the prayer vigil for peace. As the hospital transitions from being part of a Catholic network of non-profit hospitals to being a Catholic institution embedded in a non-sectarian, for-profit network, challenges for interdenominational collaboration will continue to present themselves, and there will be more need for imagination and continued collaboration with non-Catholic brothers and sisters in ministry.
Marika H. Hull, a member of the NACC’s Editorial Advisory Panel, is a chaplain at Saint Anne’s Hospital and Saint Anne’s Regional Cancer Care, Fall River, MA. The hospital is part of the Steward Family hospital system. The soup kitchen project is spearheaded by staff chaplain, Deacon David Pepin under the direction of Sr. Carole-Marie Mello, OP, BSN, MA, BCC.