By Patricia Regan, BCC
My new position was as a chaplain in a hospital and adjacent extended care facility. On Tuesdays I was to do a prayer service in the psychiatric unit. The chaplain who was leaving the position I was taking explained that she brought Communion to these patients, they prayed together, and music was played.
For over two years I had been a hospice chaplain and had permission from my pastor to take the Eucharist I needed from our church tabernacle. I went to Father, showed him my new identification, and said that I would like to come to the 8:30 Mass on Tuesdays. After services, I asked, could I take about 10 hosts to the unit with me? I would know the day before the exact number I would need. In my parish I had previously been “sent forth” to bring Communion to a senior center as well as to hospice patients.
Then came the surprise. The pastor emphatically stated that he felt that I did not belong in a psych unit. I explained that a woman chaplain had done this prayer service for several years with no problem. His answer was: “You are not to take hosts from this church. If you are going to do this, and I caution you not to, find a church closer to the hospital and get them from there.”
Leaving the church, I had a mini-discussion with God: “Why do things have to be so difficult? Is he right? Should I be ministering to these patients?” Doubt grew within me.
I spoke to the pastor of a tiny church near the hospital. He immediately agreed that I could get the hosts from his church. He even gave me keys to the sacristy and tabernacle. We had met in the hospital when he had been called there for the Anointing of the Sick.
Then came the next surprise. When Father opened the Sacristy to show me where the consecrated hosts were kept, it was like being transported into another world. The windowpanes were yellow stained glass and the morning sun bathed the room in a golden glow. The wooden oak drawers and closet doors were beautifully carved. Father had his vestments hung on a man’s dressing chair. They were exquisite, with fine needlepoint images of scenes from the Bible. I asked the pastor where they came from, and he replied that they were very old and came from Europe. He had had the backing material replaced but the needlepoint had been a labor of love and has lasted in perfect condition through many years, many Masses and many priests. Every week, when I entered that holy room, art and beauty surrounded and inspired me.
I must admit I was leery the day I was to do the first prayer service. In CPE I had been assigned to a psych unit for several months. But the pastor of my church emphatically said I didn’t belong there. Yet the pastor of the tiny church near the hospital, who had seen me minister, had confidence in me. So I asked God for help and things went well.
Music has always enriched my life, and I began our sessions with song. I provided song sheets and they sang along. Sometimes I did guided meditations with soft music in the background. Patients were encouraged to do what was comfortable: close their eyes or keep them open. I usually had a visual to look at and discuss. Patients began to bring things they had drawn or made and, sometimes, they asked for an item to be blessed. We did that together.
The door to our room had to be left open. Other patients and staff would wander by and look in. Eventually more people chose to join our group. There was never a time that a staff member had to come into the room because of a disturbance and they did tell me they felt our sessions were good for the patients.
God was in the art of the church and in our room. God came in and through the music and blessed us all. There were surprises, but I am glad I was not discouraged by the first pastor I approached. I found in chaplaincy that there are many times that things do not go smoothly, but they work out if we make adjustments and persevere.
Patricia Regan is a retired chaplain who lives with her husband, Thomas Regan, also a retired chaplain, in New York.