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    A View from the Pew

    Caring for the caregivers

    Did you ever wonder how many people who work within health care sit in your pews? I thought a lot about it this week when my dad’s health took a turn for the worse and he ended up in the hospital for a few days. The wealth of sterling services and staff at his disposal evoked a genuine prayer of gratitude for caregivers whose work can truly be called vocational.

    In my own pastoral context on Sunday morning in Boston, the students who worship with Emmanuel students consist of a diversity of undergraduates and graduate students along with interns and residents who study medicine at Harvard, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, Simmons and other medical institutions in Boston. Thank God for their love and labor in the area of health care. As a patient and a caregiver, I deeply appreciate their intense dedication, particularly in this tentative age of uncertainty in the field of medicine and health care.

    Consider the myriad of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians, diagnosticians, maintenance, housekeeping and food service workers, volunteers, professional caregivers, counselors, physical therapists, administrators who direct communications, marketing and philanthropy, human resources, quality and safety, budget and emergency management services, to name a smattering of people who work within the health care industry. Add to that list the innumerable number of folks who’s loved ones become sick in body and soul, a great many of them who worship and pray in our churches.

    The health care workforce accounts for a mammoth populace who depend on our pastoral skills for the same things for which we depend on them: wellbeing, excellent quality and skill with a robust dose of compassion infused in their time spent in our care. They anticipate that we will demystify the mystery of faith the same way we expect health care workers to shed light on the complexities that inevitably occur when illness befalls us in some way.

    So how do we care for the caregivers? The answer came to me through a conversation I shared with a colleague after worship this morning. Our best pastoral efforts as ecclesial ministers must include personal encounter, clear and honest communication and presence.

    How would you feel if a nurse gave you a shot without smiling and acknowledging you? Would you expect your physician to anticipate your knowledge about a particular diagnosis and treatment without breaking it down into the most comprehensive and simplest way possible so that you understand exactly what to anticipate? How would you feel if you called 911 for an ambulance and a cab pulled up to take you or your loved one to the hospital?

    Preposterous scenarios? Maybe. But if we fall short in engaging health care providers who care for all people in prayer, conversation and authentic interest by engaging with them before, during and after they worship, we send the same signal as the nurse who fails to look in a patient’s eyes when she administers medicine. When we dodge current, critical issues that bewilder the numbers in the nave and offer placid platitudes rather than prophetic homilies, we become the physician who fails to converse in a lucid way with a confused patient in a moment of crisis. How do we respond to the 911 calls people send our way when they express doubt, criticism, blame, despair, exhaustion, distress, heartache? How do pastoral ministers attend to the needs of the people whom we depend on to save lives, heal the sick, comfort the dying? Do we dispatch Easter hope or send a cab of dismissal by offering them a banal cliché that we presume will ease their wretchedness?  When was the last time you asked someone who works in the field of health care what they need from you as a pastoral minister?