Please enjoy this post by my friend, recent graduate of Central Seminary, and chaplain, Kim McKay Allen. In today’s blog she tells us how she survived the onset of the global pandemic this spring while completing her internship and seminary capstone project. You will want to share the wonderful blessing she created for the hands of everyone caring for people who are sick or struggling. ~ Eileen
How To Survive Your Internship in a Pandemic
I love holding a patient’s hand during prayer, smiling encouragement to a staff member, and sitting down to visit with assisted living residents.
When I went to work on that day in early March, I had no idea that day as an onsite chaplain intern would be my last.
Like ministers and chaplains everywhere, I was about to make the pandemic pivot.
I remember that last day so well. We were in the early stages of learning about COVID-19, it was something that seemed far away from us, but was a looming concern. In fact, precautions were already being put into place to limit visitors to the facility. That day, when I walked into my internship, it seemed like the world was shifting rapidly.
There was a discomforting feeling in the air and the patients seemed unsettled. The patients may not have all been aware of what was happening in the world, but they certainly could sense it.
I could see the overwhelm in the eyes of the staff as they tended to the patients.
All of a sudden, time felt short.
I listened, offered encouragement and hoped to be the non- anxious presence that chaplains are called to be. I did not want to leave that evening.
The next day, I received word that the nursing facility was closed to all, including me. I certainly understood and was grateful for the proactive prevention for these elder patients. Yet, my heart ached.
I felt a chasm of separation from the precious souls that I was called to tend as a caring shepherd. These were my people, the ones that I spent time praying with and encouraging. These were the treasures that I listened to intently as they shared their life stories, joys and heartaches.
These conversations made space for meaning and healing. This was sacred space that we had created together. It was sacred presence.
How could I continue to create sacred presence without being present with the patients?
I didn’t know how long this pandemic would last, but I did know that these patients needed a chaplain to walk alongside them on this journey.
So, I made a pandemic pivot. I adapted to the limitations of the quarantine. I was going to have to reframe the idea of sacred space by creating it virtually. Thus, I could still make space to listen and connect, no matter where we were.
As weeks extended to months, the reality of COVID-19 was palpable. Staff were essential, but so was their need for encouragement. To honor the staff, I created a virtual “Blessing of the Hands” to share. A blessing was especially important to offer to these brave healthcare heroes that daily put their lives at risk to care for others. The staff needed their chaplain, too.
What I Learned
So, how did I survive my internship during a pandemic? With perseverance, prayer and a dash of hope. I was determined to not allow distance to hinder these sacred connections.
As we have all learned in ministry, things often don’t go as planned. There always must be room for adaptation and flexibility. I found inspiration in a technology familiar and accessible to this population: the telephone. And I created a daily encouragement line so we could continue our conversations, despite a pandemic.
I learned that being present is important, and so is simply being available. Knowing someone is there for you is comforting.
I also learned that when circumstances are out of your control, it’s the perfect time to breathe and remember that this work is in God’s hands. It is also an opportunity to esteem and bless one another’s hands for the work.
In my internship experience as a chaplain, I discovered that distance does not have to diminish the power of connection and it certainly does not diminish the work of the Holy Spirit.
Kim McKay Allen is a recent Master of Divinity graduate of Central Seminary in the Women’s Leadership Initiative. She lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee and serves as a lay minister in the process of ordination. Kim finds her greatest joy and fulfillment in her calling as a volunteer chaplain.