Chaplaincy During the COVID-19 Pandemic
A Look Into Ministry at Holyoke Soldier’s Home in Massachusetts
Serving as a chaplain during the COVID-19 pandemic has been fruitful and challenging. I have been blessed to serve on Title 32 orders for the last month and a half at the Holyoke Soldier’s Home in Massachusetts. This home is an assisted living facility for veterans in my state. If you haven’t read about it in the national news yet, I’ll share that the COVID-19 outbreak has hit the people here very hard. We have had to say goodbye to 88 veterans so far. Truly this has been a mission of “caring for the wounded” and “honoring the dead”.
When I arrived, we were losing 3-4 veterans a day, but by God’s grace, we are finally starting to turn the corner. As a Title 32 Chaplain on a Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) mission, we are extremely limited in our legal capacities to perform or provide religious support to civilians. However, our mission is one of the unique situations where we have an enduring opening to minister to military, veterans, and civilians as a military Chaplain. Myself, and the other supporting Chaplains, functionally were serving as crisis hospice chaplains in the early days. We performed or coordinated for final prayers and ‘Last Rites’, we prayed with the family member who was allowed to sit with their loved one as they were expectant, and we performed ‘memorials’ and ‘farewells’ daily.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thess. 4:13-14, NIV)
We do not grieve like the rest of mankind. We do not face death like one who has no hope. Why? Jesus. It is a supreme privilege to ‘feed his sheep’ and walk with God’s people through their final moments. It’s hard. We should grieve. Paul says as much in 1 Thess. 4:13. However, our grief looks different, and in fact, looks oddly similar to joy for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Holyoke has been a rich and fertile opportunity for ministry and avenue for the gospel. I didn’t picture myself in January being deployed to a nursing home for veterans and listening to CNAs and nurses as they cry and mourn the loss of so many beloved residents here. I didn’t anticipate spending hours gowned up, masked, with a face shield sitting and listening to amazing stories from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I didn’t plan on calling my former State Chaplain: Deputy Chaplain to NGB, CH (COL) Rabbi Larry Bazer to ask him to pray over my phone with a Jewish WWII veteran and his daughter before he died. But I’m grateful for these opportunities, grateful for a wife and daughters who let “daddy share about Jesus with those who are sick”, grateful for the support of an amazing church body, grateful for the Evangelical Chaplains Commission, and grateful most of all to God for this ministry He has called me to.”