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Hospital blessed during ceremony

October 23, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

The Rev. Karen Morrow says there are studies that show "the connection between our spirituality, our emotions and our immune systems."

Sometimes, studies say, it's that spiritual connection that can make a difference in a hospital patient's recovery.

It's Pastoral Care Week, and on Wednesday, Washington County Hospital honored chaplains and volunteers who add spiritual care to the physical treatment of the patients treated there.

Unlike other clergy, pastoral caregivers "do our care-giving at the bedside, or walking alongside the staff, or in a corrections agency," hospital chaplain Cherie Baker said. There are about 25 such caregivers in Washington County, she noted, and many of them were present for a "Blessing of the House" ceremony in the hospital's main lobby.

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Chaplains and volunteers offered prayers and readings from Native American, Hindu, Bahai, Muslim, Jewish and Christian traditions during the ceremony. Morrow, supervisor of pastoral education at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., sang "When You Believe" from the film "Prince of Egypt."

Morrow said that hospital chaplains see all kinds of situations - some happy, when patients go home better, and some not so happy.

"Where I work, in a research hospital, people come hoping for a cure for something that nobody else can do anything for," she said.

For some patients, "the problems are insurmountable," she said. "In the midst of all of that, someone needs something to look toward to find meaning for all these events. Even people who work here need to find meaning."

Morrow, an ordained United Methodist minister, said the study of the connection between spirituality and physical health is a growing discipline.

At Washington County Hospital, there are a number of pastoral volunteers and "several on-call chaplains," Baker said. Pastoral care in an institutional setting requires "a different kind of training and orientation," she added, and Wednesday's observance was designed to inform the community about what pastoral caregivers do.

While local churches "do an excellent job caring for their members" when they're hospitals, she said that providing quality spiritual care for all patients has become "increasingly important."

Baker said that while there have been international observances for pastoral caregivers for about 30 years, this is the first time the hospital has had an observance.

There was more going on Wednesday than recognition of the chaplains. Baker and Barbara Steigerwalt, also a hospital chaplain, went from department to department, offering blessings on each.

"We started at 5:30 this morning," Baker said.

At each stop, the chaplains read a prayer that Baker wrote for the occasion.

"I wanted it to be something from my heart that would fit," she said.

Her plan was to visit every department, including those away from the hospital's Antietam Street campus. She said she hoped to finish by the end of this week.

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