As the COVID-19 Pandemic began in March of 2020, hospital chaplaincy dramatically changed. Until March 2020, I had served as chaplain for St. Clare’s and Waterford hospitals, the Miller Center, palliative care, Veteran’s Pavilion, and Pleasant View Towers. With the pandemic, all chaplains were assigned to provide pastoral care at a single site. Because of my existing ministry at Pleasant View Towers, I was assigned as the chaplain for that facility and its 460 residents.
Prior to COVID-19, ministry at Pleasant View would have been focused on visiting Anglican residents who were on each of the 16 units. In addition, with the assistance of St. Mark’s and St. Thomas’ congregations, we provided worship opportunities to residents. These monthly services, all projected on screen for ease of worship, were conducted in each Tower in the Chapel area. As chaplain, I had also initiated Godly Play on a number of the units. With the onset of the pandemic, all worship opportunities ended as did the support from our volunteer teams.
In the new role, I provided pastoral care to all residents, regardless of their religion. This involved one-on-one conversations and a time of prayer. The visible presence of a cleric spending time with residents and staff offered a beacon of hope. In a place where people often do feel forgotten, seeing a cleric, provided a reminder that God is with them. The simple smile, the pleasant greeting, and not being in a rush often led to some deep conversations about God and his presence in the midst of our uncertainty. This ministry of presence has led to some truly interesting conversations not only with the residents but also with a number of the staff throughout the building who (like all of us) are struggling with the changes this pandemic has wrought.
There is a passage of scripture that, in my mind, best describes ministry in Long Term Care homes; Isaiah writes, “Can a woman forget her nursing-child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” Isaiah 49:15 – 16. The pastoral presence offered in our hospitals and in long term care homes is a visible reminder to all concerned, that we are not forgotten by God.
As the pandemic’s lockdown continued, on the majority of units, there was an overall decline in unit mental health. This decline in mental health correlated to the elimination of all organized activities and all external stimuli. From discussion with the Pastoral Care Manager, Paul Grimes, and with assistance from the Music Therapist and Recreation Therapy, we proposed (to the administration) initiating worship services on each unit. These services were short, lively and very interactive and have been extremely well received by the residents. Since the services’ inception, other Chaplains (Salvation Army, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and an Eastern Health Pastoral Clinician) have begun to provide pastoral care at Pleasant View and they now share in the leading of these worship opportunities.
In June 2021, Bishop Rose and Archdeacon Taylor accompanied me for one such service; 25 of the 28 residents from that unit were in attendance, 9 of whom were Anglican. While people’s memories had begun to fail them, they had not forgotten the joy of worship. Prayers were offered, praises sung, and the spoken word was valued. These are people who had been in our pews for years, who now find themselves in a new home—they have discovered that their spiritual needs are still important to the Anglican Church as their pastoral care continues in a new way.
In December 2021, I was able to conduct Holy Communion services on a number of individual units. Distributing communion and seeing residents raising their hand(s) to receive it was deeply heartwarming. It appears that, for some memories may disappear, it is often the resident’s relationship with God that is the deepest rooted, and thus not forgotten. The Lord’s Prayer and receiving Communion are some of the deepest religious experiences, and seem to be what we remember best even in times of memory loss.
As this article is written, I was back to serving the five sites of St. Clare’s, Veteran’s Pavilion, Miller Centre, Waterford Hospital, and Pleasant View Towers. But because of the omicron variant outbreak, I am once again serving as the Ecumenical Chaplain to all residents at Pleasant View Towers. The changes, necessitated by COVID-19 and its variants, have remained in place. The ministry we provide is one of affirmation and recognition. Affirmation that a living faith is important and recognition that God does not forget us, even when many can feel forgotten.
Chaplaincy work would be much more difficult without the support from a number of people: Rev’d Canon Ed Keeping, whom I talk to daily, is a true encourager and a true pastoral presence; Paul Grimes, Pastoral Care Manager at Pleasant View, has keen spiritual and pastoral insights; Rev’d Dr. Jacintha Penney, Pastoral Care Director for Eastern Health; Susan Cummings, Pastoral Care Manager at the Waterford Hospital; and the chaplains I work with at Pleasant View Towers: Major William Hopkins (Ecumenical Chaplain), Father John Costello (RC Priest), Captain Lynette Barrett (Salvation Army Long Term Care Officer), Pastor Shawn Bowers (Pentecostal Hospital Chaplain), Rev’d Denine Morgan (Pastoral Care Clinician), Rose Powers (Music Therapist) and a number of recreation therapists, all of whom are a delight to work with.
And of course the prayerful support I find through the ministry and encouragement of Archdeacon Charlene Taylor and especially Bishop Sam Rose, is deeply appreciated.
As Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40