‘It’s been a heavy 18 months’: CarolinaEast clinical chaplains reflect on how COVID has tested their faith

Coronavirus

NEW BERN, N.C. (WNCT) — Throughout the pandemic, 9 On Your Side has brought you stories of nurses, doctors and other health experts fighting on the frontlines.

But hospitals are made up of many different people. There’s a group that’s often overlooked: hospital chaplains.

“We read in scripture and in different stories people that have gone through tragedy and loss and you have a tendency to ask God why,” said Mary Martin, clinical chaplain at CarolinaEast Medical Center in New Bern. “Why is this happening?”

It’s a question running through many people’s minds as we continue grappling with a virus that’s killed millions across the world.

“I think if we’re honest, we’ve all felt the need to ask that. In some ways, I feel like it has strengthened my faith,” said Martin.

Many times for faith to grow stronger, it has to be tested.

“Some people are saying, well I don’t need to wear my mask because God’s going to protect me,” said Brenda Harris, clinical chaplain at CarolinaEast. “If I pray, God’s going to hear my prayer and take care of me. And I did think for a moment, is my faith not strong enough that I can just go out there and not wear my mask?”

Harris and Martin serve people of all religions at CarolinaEast.

“Whether you’re a Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever that my role is not to try to persuade you to be something that you’re not,” said Harris.

Their job is to provide support to patients and their families, as well as hospital staff.

“It’s been heavy. It’s been a really heavy 18 months,” said Martin.

Social distancing is a huge obstacle for these chaplains, who rely on touch.

“I’ve felt more helpless because I can’t be the nurse that goes into that room and bathes the patient or provides that care,” said Harris. “I can’t be the one who goes in and touches them and comforts them.”

As these chaplains know all too well, God didn’t promise days without pain. That pain is being felt by more than just patients. It’s wearing on the medical staff, too.

Harris and Martin started the blessing of the hands. They anoint nurses’ hands with oil and say a prayer.

“Our nursing staff are using their hands to care for patients and quite frankly the last person to ever touch a COVID patient before they die will be usually a nurse,” said Martin.

While the pandemic has caused heartache, it’s also taught lessons and ultimately strengthened the faith of both Harris and Martin.

“In wearing my mask I take care of my neighbor,” said Harris. “That is what Jesus commanded us to do. To love your neighbor as you love yourself. If you want to take care of yourself, wearing your mask, getting your vaccine, that’s how we take care of each other. And as Christians, I think it’s our responsibility.”

Many people might not take advantage of chaplains at hospitals. Martin and Harris want everyone to know they’re here to help families during these times of transition.

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