A mission of comfort

The sun streams in through the stained glass windows. A portrait of Jesus hangs from the wall behind a small pulpit. Nothing is stirring, save the dust in the air. The only sounds to be heard are prayers coming from this young chaplain's lips over the people they will visit that day.

This is the weekly reality for senior Huntington University ministry majors. For the past two years, the senior seminar class in ministry has served during a semester-long project as chaplains at Parkview Huntington Hospital. The program began in fall 2011, and more than 40 students have served as chaplains in that time.

The hospital operated with only three volunteer chaplains for years. To expand the program, Judy Fitzmaurice, the volunteer coordinator of Parkview Huntington, decided to meet with the ministry and missions department at HU. This program was born from that meeting, and has been a boon to both parties involved.

"A typical day begins with me making a copy of the hospital census," said Paige Wilson, one of last semester's student chaplains. "As a chaplain, we are there to support and love the people that are there."

A typical visit usually lasts around an hour, but can vary by the day. Each student has an hour each week when they visit the hospital. Once the census has been printed, the students make rounds to visit the patients that are staying at the hospital.

"We start each visit by just knocking on the door and saying, 'Hey, I'm Paige Wilson, and I'm a student from Huntington University. Would you like some company today?'" she said.

The program has proven to be very fruitful for both the patients as well as the students.

"You can really see the difference it makes for our patients, especially the elderly ones who don't have any family nearby," Fitzmaurice said. "Just having someone to talk to and care about them makes all the difference."

The program also has proven to be very challenging for the students and has forced them to grow in their personal ministry.

"It makes ministry have to be bold and intentional," said senior ministry student Lauren Kerr. "We really have to strategize how to work it in effectively. We don't want to push people away."

Dr. Karen Jones, professor of ministry and missions, is happy with the results of the program. It creates an environment for the students to prepare for practical day-to-day ministry and takes them out of their comfort zones. This is where the real growth occurs.

"By the end of the semester, it is amazing the growth that they have," Jones said. "They thank us for that experience, and they realize that they can talk to people and get out there and do this."