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October 25, 2018

Chaplain Promoted as She Answers the Call to Hospital Chaplaincy

Chaplain Kimberly Belcher’s first extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, TN was responsible for derailing her path to “traditional” ministry. There, she was introduced to service that was entirely outside of the church, yet fundamentally focused on furthering her mission of caring for those in need. She had served as an Assistant Pastor for eight years and had planned on pastoring a Church of God church. Hospital Chaplaincy would lead her in an entirely new direction, one she was clearly meant to be in long-term. While she loved serving in the church, the individuals in the hospital were facing long, difficult journeys, and she jumped at the opportunity to walk beside these patients from a multitude of backgrounds and offer them a love and grace-filled representation of the Lord.

After two CPE units in Chattanooga, she moved to Chaplain Residency at West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown, WV, which became her home base. Upon first visiting, she shares, “I truly felt as though I had come home and knew that I wanted to work in this hospital as a Chaplain until retirement”. She started as a Staff Chaplain, and was set to take on a leadership role, a trajectory which accelerated when her Director retired in May, two years earlier than planned. This spring, she was promoted to Lead Chaplain, which encompasses both the role of manager and supporter. She is responsible for the Spiritual Care and Education Department operations, scheduling staff, and working with the Department Director, as well as attending to the holistic needs of each team member, effectively serving as a Chaplain for Chaplains at WVU. This new position also requires her to serve as the Department representative, collaborating with teams throughout the hospital such as the Medical Ethics Committee. Medical Staff Care and interdisciplinary teamwork are very important to her, and she feels blessed to serve a position which emphasizes both and allows her to work with the patients who first drew her to Chaplaincy. She serves the Adult Inpatient Palliative Team, providing care as many patients are moved to inpatient hospice, supporting them and their families through diagnoses, treatments, and end-of-life care.

While the last four months have been extremely busy, they have confirmed that Chaplain Belcher is exactly where she is supposed to be. In the midst of trials, whether of patients or staff, she is fulfilling her call to those who are hurting, providing peace from God and sharing hope that brings healing. Moving into this new position “is the perfect fit for me”, says Chaplain Belcher, “and I thank God every day for this opportunity”.

Sarah Judson

Church of God Chaplains Commission

October 18, 2018

New Zealand's COG Chaplain Continues Serving Through Retirement

Chaplaincy in New Zealand would not be the same without Chaplain Ray Bloomfield. Over the last 26 years he became the first Pentecostal Chaplain in all of Australasia, served for 16 years on the executive board of the New Zealand Healthcare Chaplains Association, and has served as President of the association for the last six. He has also planted and pastored three churches in unreached towns, supervises clergy and counselling students, and serves as a Justice of the Peace. As he nears retirement, Chaplain Bloomfield will continue many of these positions, while rebuilding the professional body of Chaplains, as well as volunteering through his local Hospice. Despite the work load, he says it doesn’t feel like work, and enables him continue the service he is passionate about. 

Through his ministry, he has kept “one foot in the world”, working alongside non-Christian people and developing relationships with them before attempting to attend to their spiritual needs. His alternative methods of reaching out to individuals included working on farms, on forestry rigs, and a budgeter in a community health center. As he became well-known in the community for his ability to help people out of debt, they began to go to see him at church. Many were drawn to Christ because he demonstrated care for the community’s holistic well-being. After planting another church, his schedule became consumed with serving the church internally, and he realized how much he missed being out among the “unchurched”. It was an epiphany which sparked the idea of Chaplaincy as a career. Around this time, he was asked to serve part time at a hospital for the incumbent Chaplain, and says he was hooked from day one. He felt strongly called to the hospital and to the patients with problems too serious to ignore. After completing his Clinical Pastoral Education, he resigned the pastorate and was appointed Chaplain of Rotorua Hospital, the first Pentecostal Chaplain in Australasia.

Chaplain Bloomfield considers his service as a Church of God Chaplain in an ecumenical environment to be the pinnacle of his ministry. He has journeyed alongside scores of patients and staff through the high and low points of their lives, officiated their weddings as well as their funerals, dedicated their children to the Lord and counseled them in times of doubt and struggle. Although proselytizing is not allowed in the government-run hospitals, patients seeking answers to their life-long questions of faith have turned to Christ in their final moments, finally accepting His unconditional love and forgiveness. He has helped indigenous Maori believed to be cursed and demon possessed and witnessed their transformation as their afflictions were lifted. Throughout his service as a pastor and Chaplain, simply entering other’s lives and seeking to help them in a personal way has opened the door for ministry. Chaplain Bloomfield is extremely grateful that God has entrusted him with this calling, and that he has not only been able to give to others, but has been greatly enriched in return. 

Sarah Judson

Church of God Chaplains Commission


October 10, 2018

Chaplaincy and Mental Health

October is World Mental Health Day, a topic that is gaining awareness in society and is relevant to all Chaplains, as 1 in 5 people experience mental illness each year. Chaplain John Corcoran shares how Chaplains can help to end stigmas and support the struggling:

What is Mental Illness?

   People diagnosed with mental illness often tell me that they just want to be "normal." I have asked them what "normal" is, even though I don't have an adequate answer or response. Abnormal has little to do with the person who is labeled this way, and more to do with the person doing the labeling. People who depart from the norms of behavior make us feel uneasy, and may be labeled as mentally ill. The Bible describes this occurrence when Jesus was in His home in Capernaum, performing miraculous acts. These caused disturbances in society, and His family tried to stop Him, claiming that He was “out of His mind” (Mark 3:20 NIV). The Apostle Paul faced the same accusation in Acts 26:24, as Festus interrupted Paul's defense, saying “You are out of your mind Paul. Your great learning is driving you insane" (Acts 26:24 NIV).

   Mental illness is different than what Jesus and Paul were accused of by ignorant people. It refers to long-lasting disturbances of a person's thinking, mood or behavior. Most of us have experienced periods of depression, vague fear and anxiety, or outbursts of speech or behavior that leave us feeling uneasy, but in cases of mental illness, these periods persist and interfere with daily life. This limits a person's ability to converse with family and friends, hold a job, or continue with school, and leads to feelings of loss and grief. Not only has their health suffered, but their relationships, positions, and opportunities in the community have most likely suffered as well.

The Stigma of Mental Illness

Old myths and misguided fears further compound the struggle of an individual diagnosed with a mental illness, who faces being stigmatized as dangerous, incapable, lazy, or evil. The word “stigma” derived from the practice of branding or placing a mark, and was later used to brand or mark a person with shame. While we now have a better understanding of mental health, negative perceptions still face those who struggle. The truth is, they are our friends, family members, neighbors, classmates, and co-workers. It is time to stop this discrimination and erase the stigma. They are created in the image and likeness of God and are valued by Him.

Chaplain Interventions: Beyond the Gate

By the mid twentieth century, over a half million Americans were confined to public psychiatric hospitals. In the 1950's, psychotropic medications were introduced ushering in a dramatic change. Community Mental Health Centers were funded by the Federal Government replacing the state psychiatric hospital system. However, this plan failed, and the majority of the people who would have been in a psychiatric hospital are not there today. Where are they? Some live alone, some are in the streets or jail, while others either live with their families or are in a group home. All are outside the doors of our churches. There is a great harvest of souls crying out for love and acceptance. Chaplain intervention should embrace both the pastoral and prophetic ministry, and provide both care and hope to the person struggling with mental illness.

Pastoral ministry will include:

•            The ministry of presence. When a person is diagnosed with a severe mental illness, their hopes are dashed and they suffer shame. Be present and attentive to their needs as you walk with them in their illness. When medical treatment doesn't help and medication adjustments are required, pastoral presence can be a great source of strength to the person.

•            Good listening skills. Listen with your ears and heart as the patient entrusts you with their story.

•            Maintain their identity as a person, not an illness. Encourage this distinction in their self-description as well as your own; for example, “John is a member of our church who struggles with Schizophrenia”, rather than “John is a schizophrenic”.

•            Acceptance. You may be the only person who has accepted the patient for who they are; a child of God, not a diagnosis. Listening to the person builds their self-esteem.

•            Affirmation. Often, the patient may feel guilty, unworthy, or that God has abandoned and imposed a punishment on them. Affirm their dignity. Help them claim worth in the family of God.

Prophetic ministry will include:

•            The chaplain will become the "voice of one crying in the wilderness”, addressing the rights of people with mental illness to the community. Become proactive in the battle to stamp out the stigma of mental illness.

•            Proclaim hope for healing by helping them to understand that God can bring healing as they follow their treatment plan, especially when their personal faith in Jesus Christ is included in the plan.

•            Learn to network and utilize agencies such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) for further support and help.

Chaplain John Corcoran

Church of God Chaplains Commission


November 15, 2018

Continuing Care: Retirement Community Chaplaincy

Faith-based retirement communities provide seniors with personalized care encompassing not only basic needs, but relational and spiritual needs as well. These communities offer service on a continuum from independent and assisted living facilities, to nursing care and memory support, and while many know of the opportunity to volunteer in these communities, fewer know of opportunities for Chaplaincy. As both full and part-time staff, Chaplains offer spiritual support for residents through worship services, counseling, and patient care. The Chaplains in these communities are able to develop relationships with the residents and minister to them, supporting them spiritually and emotionally through the last stages of life.

 Chaplain Laura Baker, who serves at Shannondale Retirement Community, emphasizes the importance of these relationships, as they are not short-term patients, but residents. She spends time in ministry and fellowship with them each week, and says she loves being able to hear their stories, as they have so much to share. Chaplain Baker was first introduced to Retirement Chaplaincy as a student at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. While fulfilling her Clinical Pastoral Education, she was assigned to serve at Alexian Village Retirement Community, and was immediately drawn to the people there. The Alzheimer’s Unit was specifically impactful, as her own grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and she felt a personal connection with the residents. When she and her husband, Herschell, moved back to Maryville, TN to pastor their own church, she knew she wanted to serve someplace similar, and reached out to Shannondale Retirement Community. After doing her CPE Residency at University of Tennessee Medical Center, she was hired at Shannondale. There, she serves primarily in the Healthcare Unit and Assisted Living and leads Sunday services and weekly Bible studies. As the Minister of Music at her home church, she incorporates music into her day-to-day activities, singing hymns with residents during visitations and leading worship at services.

 The retirement community is unique, and “it is the most loving place I have ever worked”, says Chaplain Deborah Valiton-Carnish, who serves at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown. CPE experiences with Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients drew her to the older generation as well, and when the opportunity to serve in a Continuing Care Community was presented, she knew it was God’s divine leading. Over the and over the last five and a half years, she has been overwhelmed by the love and support from the community. There is remarkable participation in spiritually-focused events, as more than 300 residents attend services on Sunday mornings, and over 450 more tune in to watch the broadcasts. Services are also offered for those in the Health Center, and Chaplains visit with each patient there twice a week. The four Chaplains on staff officiate weddings, funerals, baby dedications, and baptisms for not only the 2,000 residents, but the 1,700 employees as well. Weekly devotions are held in all nine “neighborhoods”, or levels of care, as well as monthly women’s groups. Chaplains are on call 24/7, and serve to notify residents, their spouses, and families of any deaths and respond to hospital calls. It’s intense, yet incredibly rewarding, as this is a time of life when people can “take off their mask”, sharing their diverse backgrounds, and allowing Chaplain Valiton-Carnish to truly live out the gospel and learn so much along the way.


 While building relationships is one of the best aspects of this ministry, it is also one of the most difficult, as much time is dedicated to end-of-life care. Residents want to give back to the Chaplains as well, and Chaplain Baker speaks of one woman who has difficulty communicating due to a stroke, but never fails to have a smile. During visitations, she takes Chaplain Baker’s cold hands in her own to warm them, the woman’s past as a nurse shining through. Chaplain Baker shares that while the Lord is using her to minister, she feels that she receives more in return. Being able to walk alongside these residents through this stage in their lives and grow from their teachings is a privilege, she says, and is grateful for this opportunity to work for the Lord. Chaplain Valiton-Carnish agrees, adding, “There truly is no better place to work”. 

Sarah Judson

Church of God Chaplains Commission