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A Soft Ray of Light.

What does a Hospice Chaplain do?

The question hung like a morning mist over our conversation. We needed to add a new chaplain to our team, and during the interview our Executive Director asked a prospective candidate to explain our role in hospice care. What does a Hospice Chaplain do?

His compassionate answer was warm and fuzzy, drawn from his years of pastoral work, but it floated around in our heads, never really coming down-to-earth. Admittedly a tough question for someone without experience in health care.

To make it practical, I decided to share my approach with a middle-aged woman – I’ll call her Abby – who has a diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia. Until five years ago, she walked five miles every morning before she embarked on her full-time job in the family business.

Now Abby walks the halls of a large memory care facility. Arriving for her twice-a-month-visit, there’s no reason to go to her room. I just scan the halls to find her.

Speaking rarely but smiling often, Abby’s tender but tired eyes meet mine. We then join hands and I walk with her. Sometimes she’ll agree to sit, and we’ll watch the looping video of tropical fish. But mostly we walk.

That’s it. That’s my job, I told the candidate. I walk with people, and I hold hands.

Granted, the disease process frequently forces people to surrender their ability to walk, or even stand. Therefore, I invite them to lead me down memory lane– retelling their escapes and escapades, heartaches and heartthrobs, sharing timelines as well as times of sadness and celebration. And I listen.

Residing in a facility, and then coming on hospice care – people get handled a lot, but generally in ways that serve a clinical purpose. A gentle touch is like a soft ray of light that warms the soul. For that reason, I hold hands a lot.

And I sing about hands.

Yes, Amazing Grace is a favorite of many, although people don’t remember the words very well. But the song I now sing the most is one everyone knows and loves, and it’s all about hands. God’s hands.

He’s got the whole world, in his hands

He’s got the whole world, in his hands

He’s got the whole world, in his hands

He’s got the whole world, in his hands.

He’s got the wind and the rain, in his hands….

He’s got the little bitty baby, in his hands….

And the person with whom I sit is also in God's hands. To reinforce that, I sing a verse with their name mentioned three times – He’s got _____ in his hands – as a reminder that God is holding onto them.

They may feel lonely. They may struggle with abandonment. But as I hold their hand, I ask them to imagine that it’s really God’s hand. Lovingly. Faithfully. Tenderly. Powerfully. And yes, you are in his hands.

I walk with people, and I hold hands. That’s my job.

Why am I sharing this? Why should you care?

For one simple reason. That’s what Jesus does. Yes, I get paid to do it full-time with hospice patients. But my calling to do it the rest of the week is no less important.

When you decided to follow him, that’s what you also signed up for. We are called to love like Jesus.

We walk with people, and we hold hands. And we listen.

He’s got you and me, sister, in his hands.

He’s got you and me, brother, in his hands.

He’s got you and me, sister, in his hands.

He’s got the whole world in his hands.

Benediction of Blessing

May you walk with people as Jesus has faithfully walked with you.

May you hold hands with the same passion and devotion that Jesus holds yours.

May you listen to the stories you are told, knowing that Jesus has lovingly crafted yours.


Two hands – ShutterStock

Little hands and big hands – Liv Bruce on Unsplash

Woman and 2 girls – Vika Strawberrika on Unsplash

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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM

1 Comment

Lydia Richards
Lydia Richards
Jul 08, 2022

Beautiful. Thank you Brian.

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