I had a chance last week to talk to several volunteers at an appreciation luncheon. It honored those who volunteer for Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center’s Chaplain Services program. Eight of the volunteers were set to receive a five-, 10-, or 15-year pin. Several others already had pins for even more years of service.

Regional Medical Center (RMC) in Anniston sponsors the program. Jim Wilson of Jacksonville, a longtime career chaplain with 46 years of experience, was hired in 1998 as head chaplain.

“You don’t have to be around him but a few minutes to know that he walks with the Lord,” volunteer Barbara McCain said. She reluctantly started volunteering 17 years ago. She had retired from Fort McClellan when a friend asked her to help Wilson set up the office.

“I told her I didn’t have time,” McCain said.

She changed her mind and decided to help for only six weeks. Afterward she realized if she helped manage the chaplain’s office, he could serve more patients.

Volunteer John Triplett, who received his 10-year pin at the luncheon, said at first he lacked confidence to approach patients and ask if they needed prayer. That was before a persuasive volunteer named Helen Henley, a fellow member of Triplett’s church at Blue Mountain Baptist, suggested he at least try to serve as an associate chaplain. “I begin telling patients that the Lord loves them and I do too,” Triplett, who once worked at Anniston Army Depot, said.. “The more I serve, the more I enjoy it.”

Wilson oversees a group of more than 100 volunteers. Because of them, he has been able to help create several programs offering spiritual support for patients at RMC and the hospitals two other facilities, RMC Jacksonville and Stringfellow Memorial Hospital.

There are several components under Chaplain Services, such as the pastoral visitation team that engages with patients on a one-to-one basis for meeting their spiritual and prayer needs. There is another group of volunteer chaplains who take calls after hours, which is usually when an unexpected death occurs and a family is devastated. Several volunteers rotate and host worship services each Sunday. Some serve support groups, such as those groups for supporting patients and their families struggling with Alzheimer’s, cancer, grief, mental illness, and a variety of other emotional and physical challenges.

“This program has exploded gradually, somewhat plateauing right now,” Wilson said. “Our volunteers are getting older, and we are at the point of needing to recruit and reload.”

He told how some volunteers are not retired. They come after work to carry out the program.

Wilson said the program needs more ministers willing to be on call, the initial reason that RMC created the entire program more than 19 years ago. He also wants to encourage more people to volunteer in other areas of the program.

Wilson shared some of the statistics regarding the number of contacts made by the program. Through July of this year, the volunteers have made 59,269 contacts in a total of 16,000 hours. The staff that runs the chaplain’s office has accumulated 476 hours. That number of positive contacts and man hours have cost only $29,515.

Chaplain Wilson said he appreciates the volunteers.

“I started from scratch and got a wonderful response,” Wilson said. “I feel good about the program. Some volunteers have been with me almost 20 years.”

“I am grateful, humbled, awed, and overwhelmed by the response of volunteers,” Wilson said.

Volunteer Walter Lawson, a retired military sergeant, said volunteering as an assistant chaplain gives him a chance to express a unique part of himself that many patients enjoy. He sings to them.

“I tell the patients that I am there to lift their spirits,” Lawson said. “Some allow me to pray. Some want me to sing. Many just want me to listen to them.”

Requirements for becoming an associate include filling out an application, submitting to a background check, attending hospital orientation classes, studying governmental regulations, and working under an experienced chaplain for four hospital visits. They also must obtain a flu shot each year.

“As I volunteer,” Triplett said, “I feel like I am helping someone. I tell the patients I get a bigger blessing than they do.”

The volunteers are taught never to intrude on patients who prefer no engagement with the associates.

“We are trying to respond to the people who want pastoral care, not everyone does,” Wilson said, “but we hope to be there for those who do.”

Those interested should email Wilson at jwilson@rmccares.org

Contact Sherry at sherrykug@hotmailcom