Few places are more deserving of spiritual advisors than hospitals. Between the people seeking to be healed and the staff tasked with their healing, spiritual advising often serves as both a guiding and consoling light. Add the families and friends of the patients, and hospitals have even more reason to keep a spiritual advisor very close at hand.
That’s the bright idea behind Bethesda Hospital East’s Pastoral Care Program. And that’s the goal of Reverend Kathleen P. Gannon, Bethesda’s brand new in-house Interfaith Chaplain.
The Oceanside, New York native comes to Bethesda from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach, where, as Associate Rector, she spent the past 15 years administering to the Palm Beach County community.
Prior to St. Paul’s, Reverend Kathleen (as she’s familiarly known to her parishioners) served at the Chapel at St. Andrew Episcopal, in Boca Raton, which not only introduced her to the region, but convinced her that this was the region where she’d put down permanent roots. Palm Beach County is extremely fortunate to have her.
In addition to serving the patients, staff and families at Bethesda East, Reverend Kathleen, who holds degrees from both Pace University (Bachelors of Business Administration) and Virginia Theological Seminary (Masters of Divinity), will be continuing her outreach on the boards of both Family Promise of South Palm Beach County and the South Florida Haiti Project, as well as with the Area Agency on Aging and Disability Community Advisory Council. That means everyone from children to seniors will still have the blessings of Reverend Kathleen’s unmitigated care.
Palm Beach Christian Voice got with the very reverent Reverend to talk about her recent appointment, as well as some of the other aspects of serving in Palm Beach County. Here’s what she had to say:
Congratulations on the new appointment! It’s quite the achievement! Does it feel like a dream come true?
Thank you, John. It really does feel like a dream come true. I am working as an interfaith chaplain at Bethesda Hospital. I am able to pray in the many different traditions of our community, to meet people at many different milestones and places in their health and life, and to be part of healing in our community. It is amazing, in spite of, and at times because of, the pandemic.
Have you long sought an appointment of this type?
Looking back, I think this particular call has been brewing for a while… visiting people in the hospital has been part of my ministry for more years than I would care to mention!
Was Bethesda in particular in your sights (or at least on your list of hopefuls)?
Bethesda Hospital was definitely in my sights. I had been visiting patients at Bethesda as a local parish priest for the past fifteen years and for years before that, when I lived and worked down the road in Boca Raton.
And, three years ago, Bethesda became part of Baptist Health South Florida – a non-profit hospital system with a significant commitment to chaplaincy.
The Pastoral Care Team at Baptist Health South Florida recognizes that a healthy connection to God is vital to a person’s physical, psychological and social well-being.
That is a mission statement I can fully commit to…
How did the appointment come about?
I became familiar with the new chaplaincy effort as it started at Bethesda Hospital. I was a part of the interfaith clergy network that was created by the Rev. Tom Graf, an Episcopal priest who was the first full time director of Pastoral Care at Bethesda. I had a chance to meet the leadership. I began to feel and see that I might be called into the ministry of healing as a chaplain.
Was there a very involved vetting process?
In the parlance of faith, there is a time of discernment that precedes any traditional vetting. I was prayerfully considering – am I called to this chaplaincy? And the team at Bethesda/Baptist was discerning what gifts and skills they needed in the new chaplain – and was that me?
I did interview for the position in January of 2020, before the pandemic was on our radar screens. The position was posted with an expected start date in March.
So you began serving right at the beginning of the crisis?
Yes, my first day at Bethesda was March 16, 2020 – as the world was shutting down. On my first day, I could not even enter the hospital to go to our Pastoral Care offices without going in the one, new entrance for staff, going up to the second floor, crossing over to the Heart Hospital and taking the elevator down. It was much more complicated than simply entering the main entrance of the Heart Hospital and a metaphor for our many new pandemic-driven practices.
And, the practices of chaplaincy have evolved, changed and adapted to the pandemic just as in every field these days. In the early days of the pandemic, we developed a way of contacting patients by phone to provide prayer and care… for the times when we cannot enter into a patient’s room to sit and pray for a while. We developed new ways of supporting families when there were no visiting hours and now while visiting is still limited. We developed new ways of supporting our front-line staff, while serving just behind them on the line.
What are some of your duties?
First, I am present for the patients and their families.
I listen. I ask questions. I pray. I try to provide a moment of connection to the divine, as the patient understands the divine, in the name that they have for God, for peace, for love.
I work with, listen to, counsel and provide prayerful respite for the staff as well.
How does it differ from your position at St. Paul’s?
At St. Paul’s I certainly had the privilege of pastoral care – visiting the sick, caring for families when loved ones died, leading funerals and memorials, and in the joyful moments of weddings and welcoming new babies. I was also engaged in worship, faith formation for all age groups, Christian education, mission and outreach… sometimes all within the same hour. Now, I am able to focus on just pastoral care and do more of it.
Speaking of which, how long did you serve at St. Paul’s and what was/were your title’s?
I served at St. Paul’s for just about 15 years. As Associate Rector I was involved with just about every ministry and every age group!
Are you still in any way involved with the church?
As I transitioned out of St. Paul’s, I did maintain my involvement with Seekers – a dinner church ministry aimed at people in their 20s and 30s – just waiting for my replacement to step in. The pandemic has slowed that process a bit.
Yes, could you please tell us a bit about Seekers?
Before the closing of the churches, Seekers met every Sunday night at 5:30pm for dinner church. A team of volunteers from the church and many of the Seeker participants, cooked a lovely meal, mostly from scratch, every week. The gathering was in the pattern of Evening Prayer in the St. Paul’s Episcopal tradition. The scripture lesson was the same as was proclaimed in the church’s Sunday morning services, but with dinner, a sermon and lots of conversation about God.
How long did it run and how many folks would you say were served?
Seekers began at St. Paul’s about 10 years ago…starting as a small group ministry meeting at the tea house next door, coming on to St. Paul’s campus as a dinner church about seven years ago.
Seekers, a ministry of St. Paul’s Episcopal, usually runs from September to June, called the ‘program year’ in the church calendar. This past season we averaged 50 participants each Sunday. It was a banner year!
Many of the people in Delray Beach in that 20s to 30s age group are in a recovery program, and many participated in Seekers. Many of our participants come from the leaders in recovery in Delray Beach – RECO Institute, The Lodge, the local sober living communities such as Healing Properties. They come from a place of seeking God, willing to talk about God, willing to pray.
Seekers is not a meeting, it is not part of a recovery program – it is church. The conversation was always about God in our lives, and rarely, if ever, was anyone talking about their program – they were talking about their lives, and seeing God.
What were some of Seekers more pronounced highlights?
Our team of “Seeker’s Chef’s” were known to do a spectacular dinner for the big holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. The dinner’s were delicious and the decorations superb.
And, Seekers never missed an opportunity to help others. For example, last fall we participated in the annual Run to End Hunger, with a team of participants in both the 5k run and the 5k walk! We helped raise money to feed people locally through the Caring Kitchen and the Community Food Panty, just two of the feeding programs run by CROS Ministries in our county. And, any time St. Paul’s needed help, especially strong hands to set up the jumble sales, or the sacred Icons art display or put up the hurricane shutters – Seekers were right there to give back.
Are you hoping the person who fills your position will continue the tradition?
I think St. Paul’s leadership is committed to serving this young demographic in our local community… and St. Paul’s received a grant from the Episcopal Church nationally to help with some of the costs. We are just waiting for the pandemic guidelines that will show how Seekers can gather, and the new priest to be in place!
So continuation is pretty much a done deal?
Between St. Paul’s and Bethesda you’ve had a rather unique vantage point from which to view faith in Palm Beach County — how would you say faith is faring around the County?
I think people in Palm Beach County are seeking – seeking faith in the divine, in that which is greater than one alone.
The idea that congregations could not gather physically – has given birth to more on-line worship, bible studies, education classes for all ages! Especially the mainline and traditional congregations, have been beckoned into the on-line God world – in new and exciting ways! And, this is true across faith traditions and across age groups.
Might you have any words of advice for the faithful seeking to best get through these troubled times?
Ask, seek, knock. That is a Christian exhortation from the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Seek God, as you understand God in all God’s divine names. Seek the divine connection on the pathway that is set out before you… Whether you are part of one of the world’s top five faith traditions – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu – or you are on your own road to faith. It is important to remember in these troubled times, that we are not alone. Ask for help even while you are helping others.
Note about John Hood, the Author:: Before moving to Los Angeles, John Hood was based in Delray Beach, where he got to learn first-hand about the community-enhancing efforts of Reverend Gannon and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. His “Bethesda Memorial Hospital is Getting a New Chaplain” was written as a Special Guest Contributor.