A chaplain’s visit can brighten a day for those in need of spiritual care, counsel, a word of encouragement or a good laugh. This week’s clergy discuss memorable experiences they’ve had while making rounds in hospitals, counseling college students or comforting end-of-life patients.
Chaplain, Islamic Society, Interfaith Center, Stony Brook University
It’s extraordinary to reflect on my 30 years as a Muslim chaplain at Stony Brook University and to think of the hundreds of students whose paths I have crossed.
In 1993, when I took this position, I became part of a community with a sustained commitment to providing college students access to resources and support during critical years of their intellectual and emotional development. I don’t recall there being many Muslim chaplains during my own college years, so I believed I was providing a perspective people could benefit from, while using my passion for advocacy as a counselor, teacher and chaplain.
I recall one beautiful memory, during what was called the federal government’s “Muslim ban” in 2017, when I spoke at a campus demonstration that drew hundreds of our students and staff in solidarity with the Muslim community and immigrants. To applause and cheering, I spoke about America being a land of unity and a nation of immigrants. As I looked out from the podium at a sea of faces, I saw a vast array of people of diverse backgrounds and nationalities. It was inspiring indeed to see that although we all come from different backgrounds, our strength as Americans derives from coming together as one, united community.
Chaplain Leslie Schotz
Northwell Health South Oaks Hospital in Amityville
Many patients and staff I interact with don’t necessarily understand the vast training of a board-certified chaplain. After receiving a doctorate in ministry, I was required to work and study for 4,000 hours, which brought me to serve and learn in various hospitals on Long Island and in New York City.
I believe that hospitals are where religion and medicine overlap with kindness and respect, and that chaplaincy is about what connects us, not what divides us. Relief from pain and suffering is beyond religious dogma. Deep listening to the holy story of another human being may help bring comfort and hope to someone who feels lost in the world.
One of my most rewarding experiences as a chaplain involved offering care to a young man who seemed to be feeling discouraged and alone. He said that what he needed most was just someone to listen to him. I offered an empathetic, active-listening presence that the patient appreciated. He even advocated for the role of chaplaincy to other staff present. I was surprised that such a young patient was able to express such deep gratitude. It made me feel valued as a spiritual care provider.
The Rev. Barbara L. Whitlow
Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Central Islip and Hauppauge United Methodist Church
As a former chaplain at a secure psychiatric unit and a psychiatric emergency room at a large hospital in Manhattan, I sat and listened to patients, wiped tears away, held hands with them and read to them from inspirational works of their choosing — whatever made them feel most valued and secure in that moment. I learned that chaplaincy was about sharing sacred space with others on their own terms.
Often patients couldn’t respond because they were consumed with their pain or worried about their health condition.
And then there was the day I was called to pray with a man who was dying. As I wondered what words I could offer this man, he began to encourage and inspire me. He told me that he had heard me read an encouraging poem for the day and play an uplifting song for other patients, and it made him inwardly smile. Despite the progression of his illness, he still looked forward to my word of encouragement for the day or the gentle jokes I shared. He told me how very important my daily rounds were to help break the monotony of hospital routine and lift the spirits of the injured, the sick and the dying.