Studies show many people would appreciate a visit from a minister during a hospital stay. Some don't have a church family, though.
Clergy are stretched to the limits just visiting members of their own congregation in area hospitals. But a program from the Institute of Religion and Health hopes to change that.
The Grace Corps was born out of the Augusta-based institute's recognition of a need for additional spiritual ministry in hospitals. The group trains volunteers to fill that void, and McDuffie Regional Medical Center has signed on to benefit from their efforts.
"I'm on the board of the Institute of Religion and Health, and because I'm on the board, I was like 'I want this to come to Thomson too,'" said Thomson-based doctor, Jacqueline Fincher. "...We know that when patients are doing well emotionally and spiritually, they do better physically, and they heal faster."
Several McDuffie County residents have completed the classroom phase of training and will receive the hands-on clinical training in January. The Grace Corps, which has agreements with all the major area hospitals, requires the training before allowing a person to begin ministering.
One Thomson woman has very personal reasons for getting involved in Grace Corps. Pam Edmondson's mother passed away in 1983 after suffering from cancer. At the time there was no program available to minister to her family's spiritual needs.
"Ever since then, I've felt like I wanted to do something in that area, and this was like 'Oh this is a good place to start," Mrs. Edmondson said. "It's a calling, and I feel like this is something I'm supposed to be doing and working toward."
Don Berry, president of the Institute of Religion and Health, got the idea for Grace Corps after noticing the need for spiritual guidance during illnesses. With input from health professionals and ministers, he organized a 40-hour training program suitable for preparing volunteers.
Hospital staffs are welcoming the additional service, and all involved are ready for the volunteers to begin lending a hand.
"They are just excited about welcoming these people into the hospitals to help because with the nursing shortage and with most hospitals just having maybe one chaplain, it will be a tremendous help," Dr Fincher said. "The bottom line is it's a ministry, and the patients are the ones who benefit."
With MRMC's lack of an on-staff chaplain, area ministers should benefit from the extra pairs of hands and ears. Currently, some ministers are placed on call to ensure the presence of clergy in a time of need.
According to Dr. Berry, the Institute is working with MRMC to organize a training class in Thomson sometime this Spring. Those interested in participating in the Grace Corps should contact the Institute of Religion and Health at (706) 722-7656.