Shepherd Center’s Chaplaincy Program Offers Faith-Related Support for Patients of All Religions
Plans are under way to renovate the hospital's chapel.
Tucked away in a corner of the original section of Shepherd Center is a small, carpeted room with muted lighting, a handful of chairs and an elaborate stained glass window. It is the chapel, a peaceful place where patients, families and staff members pray and meditate.
Although the hospital’s mission is to help patients heal spiritually, as well as physically and emotionally, chaplains Ben Rose and Alan Roof say the chapel is under-utilized.
“I think it’s under-used because it’s a dark space and not as warm and welcoming as it could be,” Ben says. “Also, most of the hospital is in the Marcus Building now, and we’re off in a corner.”
That should change this year when the chapel is renovated with funds contributed by donors. A wall separating the chapel from the chaplains’ cramped office will be removed. Temperature control and lighting will be improved, and the stained glass window will be moved to a side wall, where it will be backlit.
The chaplains’ new office will be smaller, but it will be at one end of the chapel where it is more convenient.
“When people seek solace in the chapel, we’re just a door-knock away,” Ben says.
Many larger hospitals have only one chaplain, and rural hospitals often rely on a minister from a local church. But Shepherd Center’s chaplains are an integral part of health care. They participate in meetings, confer with doctors and therapists, and meet frequently with patients and their families.
“We have deep, hard conversations every day with patients who are asking hard questions, the ones that don’t have easy answers,” Alan says. “People have faith that they will walk again, and when they can’t, they wonder why God hates them. We’re not just about the wounds of the body; we’re also about the wounds of the spirit.”
“A big part of what we do is sitting with folks,” Ben says. “We will pray with them that they will be healed, but beyond that, we expand the hope that they will truly live again.”
The chapel is busiest in the early morning when some hospital employees stop by before going to work. In the evenings, it becomes a haven for patients and families who have trouble sleeping.
The chaplains also preside over a worship service at 1:30 p.m. on Sundays in the Callaway Auditorium. The service includes scripture or poems, prayer, a homily, and live or recorded music.
“We have singing, and we’ve even had interpretative dance by people in wheelchairs moving their arms,” Ben says. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”
Patients are also encouraged to participate in the service. Those with brain injuries may practice a prayer or poem with their therapist and recite it during the service.
“We try to incorporate it as part of their therapy,” Alan says.
The services are general in nature so people of all faiths are comfortable.
“We may have Catholics from Boston along with Pentecostals from the South,” Alan says. “Usually, we have a bunch of gracious people who find they can sit next to people from other traditions and worship with them.”
“We want people to be spiritually fed here, but we’re not trying to impose anything on them,” Ben says. “For some, that may mean going out to the garden instead, and we celebrate that, too.”
For more information on Shepherd Center’s Chaplaincy Program, visit shepherd.org/chaplaincy.
Written by John Christensen
Photos by Louie Favorite
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.