Chaplains comfort loss, celebrate life at Madison Hospital

Madison Hospital chaplains are Rev. Bert Breland, from left, Deacon K. Krewer, Rev. Mike Oliver, Rev. Mary Jo Gessner, Rev. Geoff Hatley, Rev. Suzanne Katschke and Rev. Larry Wright. Not pictured -- Rev. Steve Grissom and Pastor Errol McCladdie. (CONTRIBUTED)
Madison Hospital chaplains are Rev. Bert Breland, from left, Deacon K. Krewer, Rev. Mike Oliver, Rev. Mary Jo Gessner, Rev. Geoff Hatley, Rev. Suzanne Katschke and Rev. Larry Wright. Not pictured — Rev. Steve Grissom and Pastor Errol McCladdie. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – On call 24/7, nine clergy members volunteer as chaplains at Madison Hospital.

A person “simply needs to notify a caregiver to request the services of a chaplain,” Pamela Sparks said. Sparks works as manager of media and public relations for Huntsville Hospital.

Chaplains are Senior Pastor Rev. Bert Breland and Minister of Pastoral Care Rev. Mary Jo Gessner, First Baptist Church of Madison; Rev. Geoff Hatley and Deacon K. Krewer, St. Andrew’s Anglican; Rev. Mike Oliver, Trinity Baptist Church; Rev. Suzanne Katschke, Crosswinds United Methodist Church, Harvest; Rev. Larry Wright, retired Madison UMC; Rev. Steve Grissom, Haven Baptist Church; and Pastor Errol McCladdie, Seventh-day Adventist.

“Chaplains offer spiritual care for individuals and can be a vital part of the holistic healthcare experience. Chaplains offer prayer and strive to be the presence of God during a difficult time,” Gessner said.

Using listening skills and appropriate questions, chaplains help patients “process the anxiety that a health crisis can bring to the surface,” Gessner said.

All volunteer chaplains are experienced, ordained professional clergy. They serve a local congregation, have completed clinical pastoral education or both, Gessner said. The hospital recruited some chaplains, while others offered assistance by contacting Volunteer Services.

“Chaplains are always walking a tightrope between staying emotionally detached to do our job and being somewhat vulnerable to empathize alongside a grieving family,” Hatley said. “It’s an artful skill. With the grace and presence of God, we are glad to participate.”

These volunteers deal with roller-coaster emotions, both happy and sad. “While all deaths are difficult, the death of a child is most heart-wrenching,” Gessner said. “We experience happier moments with patients, which include receiving an encouraging medical prognosis or the birth of a child.”

In addition, Madison Hospital has a chapel near the Emergency Department waiting area. The chapel’s magnificent stained glass was featured in “The Stained Glass Quarterly” publication, Sparks said.

Madison Hospital’s address is 8375 U.S. 72 W. For more information, call 256-265-2012 or visit madisonhospital.org.

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