In our busy, noisy world, the grand gestures grab headlines while quiet
moments of grace often go unnoticed. And yet, moments of grace will sustain
us through our darkest hours. No one understands this better than the
chaplains of Southeast Georgia Health System’s Pastoral Care program.
Director of Pastoral Care Wright A. Culpepper, D.Min., experiences many
moments of grace. “I am most surprised when someone comes up to
me in a store or restaurant and says, ‘You were with me when my
loved one died.’ I may have done nothing more than sit with them
and offer a bedside prayer, but a longtime bond is established. There
is peace in knowing we are not alone.”
For more than 40 hours a week, Culpepper, Peter Vivenzio, Thornton Willingham
and Bill Culpepper bring solace and support to the Brunswick Campus, and
a chaplain is available 24/7 for emergencies. Culpepper once studied models
that “extend ministry beyond the walls of a church,” which
makes him value his Health System role even more. “Most churches
reflect one color or social economic group, but everyone comes to the
Health System – rich, poor, black, white, brown, young, old, all
religions. It has become a place to study the uniqueness and commonality
of us all.”
A Team Effort
Chaplains partner with hospital staff to “address the complete needs
of a patient – health, spiritual and emotional,” says Vivenzio,
adding, “Doctors, nurses and chaplains perform a team effort. The
body and soul need healing.”
The role of these spiritual advisors expanded during the pandemic. People
from all walks of life suffer, especially frontline health care providers.
The heroes in scrubs are never far from Culpepper’s mind. “COVID-19
has been like a long slog through mud. You see the weariness in people’s
faces. Some nurses changed departments or retired due to stress. New nurses
stepped in to help. Physicians return daily to the battlefield. I witness
amazing people fulfilling their calling to serve.”
Vivenzio agrees. “I am always impressed by the commitment and work
ethic of the staff. COVID-19 and 2020 tested the Health System, but the
public can be proud.”
Thanks to the chaplains, Shelly McKinney, R.N., nurse manager for the 4
St. Simons COVID-19 unit, knows her team is cherished. “Every single
Wednesday morning at 6:45 a.m., throughout this pandemic, Wright Culpepper
offered prayers and blessings for our staff,” McKinney says.
When COVID-19 interfered with Culpepper’s annual Blessing of the
Hands, where he blesses and anoints caregiver hands with oil, McKinney
devised a plan. Staff members traced their hands, cut out the tracings
and glued them to posters. They wrote their names, family and patient
names on the tracings. “I moved through the hallways, placing a
little oil and offering prayers. It warmed my heart that this was important
enough for them to make sure the blessings occurred,” says Culpepper.
When local churches closed their doors or limited services due to the pandemic,
the chaplains began offering weekly communion in the hospital chapel.
“Many come for the offering or to pray to re-center themselves spiritually,”
Culpepper says. When the hospital restricted visitors for health safety
reasons, hospital chaplains took over the duties of local clergy by ministering
Leading with Compassion
COVID-19 plunged our world into a state of collective mourning. We have
lost so much – from loved ones to jobs, school routines and human
connection. In dark times, however, there will always be guides. Vivenzio
recalls a dying woman, broken hearted because she had never been baptized.
As he performed the baptism ritual at her bedside, she wept, saying, “I
can meet my God now.”
Reflecting on the last year, Culpepper puts the struggle in perspective.
“In the early days, there was fear. Then, there was resolve to continue
the fight. Now, with the vaccine, there is hope. The vaccine has been
a big help to the mental health of our health care providers.” He
draws strength from God, his family and community.
COVID-19 changed our world overnight, but Culpepper urges us to remember
that which never changes. “The God of generations past is the God
of today and of generations to come. Trust in the Creator, Redeemer and
Sustainer of all there is.”
To help support programs like Pastoral Care Services, call Southeast Georgia
Health System Foundation at 912-466-3360.