Ministering On The Frontline Of COVID-19

Montrel Martin

Role of chaplain takes on special importance for Rev. Montreal Martin

Like a number of clergy, Rev. Montreal Martin serves in two locales. Not only is he senior pastor at Wheatland UMC, but he also is a chaplain in the Methodist Health System. Similarities abound between the distinct roles, Rev. Martin said, but the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic has created a renewed interest in the role that chaplains play to the many individuals that engage in hospital settings.

We recently sat down with Rev. Martin, a chaplain since 2016, to discuss his interest in chaplaincy, how COVID-19 has impacted this role and what advice he has for others who might be drawn to this professional endeavor.

What drew you to this particular field of ministry?

What made me interested in the field of Pastoral Care was that I knew that it was an area that I had to attain more skills for my ministry’s “toolbox.” Although the course was a “requirement” for graduation during my graduate studies, I didn’t look at it in that way. I saw it as an opportunity to develop my pastoral being and role.

It was during this particular course at Wesley Theological Seminary where my interest grew even fonder of this particular ministry of Pastoral Care. I’m guessing it was the caregiver in me that was really curious and willing to explore in depth. A guest was invited to speak during a class session; she served as a hospital chaplain. After hearing her story and the role she played in the hospital, I had many discussions with many professors regarding chaplaincy.

Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I eventually enrolled into a Summer Intensive CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) course, and it wasn’t until the middle of this course that somewhat opened my eyes to what it meant to be a hospital chaplain. I went in thinking one way but came out with another perspective of chaplaincy. But what drew me in and want to further pursue chaplaincy as a profession was the fact that the skill sets that I was learning were not only for those that I would be caring for but for me so that I could provide effective care to those I’ve encountered. Action, reflection, action.

How has your role as a chaplain changed with the COVID-19 pandemic?

First allow me to say this: I have served in many health systems, but I couldn’t be any prouder to serve for Methodist Health System and be under the leadership of Rev. Caesar Rentie, vice president of Pastoral Services, Rev. Willacin “Precious” Gholston, manager of CPE Services and manager of Pastoral Services at Charlton Methodist, and the rest of the department management. Their leadership has prepared the entire department in ways that we may have to serve during this COVID-19 pandemic.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that my role has changed, but rather simply the method in which I provide care has. Chaplains provide care to everyone within the hospital: families, patients and our medical team members. So, during this crisis, I look at it as me still providing care, just in another form.

That could be sitting with a grieving family member who just experienced loss and is not allowed to see his or her loved one due to the precautionary measures in place to prevent spread or running blood to the lab or getting on the overhead loud speaker to give permission for everyone to take a 90-second breather and say a quick prayer. The role hasn’t changed, but the method has.

What do you find appealing about this role? How is it similar to/different from the role of a pastor in a local church?

What I find appealing and satisfying about this role is being a part of a health system that recognizes the need for the chaplain and the skill set the role brings to the interdisciplinary team to provide the needed holistic care. I am trained as a Level 1 Trauma chaplain, but the Methodist Health System has allowed me to be versatile in the care I provide due to the many areas of advanced care they offer in each of its campuses where I’ve been fortunate to serve.

When I’m working a shift in the hospital, those who are in the hospital are my parishioners; it is my priority to care for them while I’m there and vice versa. And, as their hospital “pastor,” it is a privilege to provide care to someone in the midst of their pain. This is one similarity. To me, besides the day-to-day local church duties, there really is no difference except the environment/location. As a chaplain, I am still tasked with leading worship celebrations, officiating weddings/funerals and/or memorials.

Any advice for someone who might want to become a chaplain?

I advise all clergy to take at least one unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), for them and for those they are serving.

For someone who is genuinely seeking the profession of chaplaincy, the advice I would offer to them is to search deeply within and find out what area of chaplaincy God is calling them to serve in. The discipline of chaplaincy is widespread; all areas of chaplaincy are not alike. But then I would suggest that they ask themselves why they are seeking to become a chaplain. Next, I would suggest that they are not to limit themselves but to be open to the many possibilities in which they can be used. And lastly, I would invite them to get all the experience they can, if possible, during their CPE internship and Residency.

Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2020