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Chaplain Highlight: Lynn Sifrit

June 1, 2018

What is your endorsement setting? 

Lynn Sifrit

I am one of 16 chaplains at Montgomery Hospice in Rockville, Maryland. I am part of three teams caring for patients and families in their homes and facilities. I primarily work with three nurses and two social workers, as well as a volunteer coordinator, assigned volunteers, home health aides, and those providing complementary therapies. I assist my supervisor in training and mentoring newly hired chaplains and occasionally cover for the chaplain at our inpatient facility.

What prompted you to serve God in this setting?

I have been interested in chaplaincy from the early 1980s when I first had a basic unit of clinical pastoral education (CPE), graduated from seminary, followed by a residency at a large hospital. I realized during my 20-plus years in local churches that one of the most rewarding parts of my ministry was supporting people who were ill, as well as minister to their families at the time of death and as they reoriented their lives following the death of their loved one. When my wife earned her Ph.D., I told her that I would look for a ministry setting in the local church or beyond once she knew where she was working. Bob Eades was the director of Pastoral Care at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kansas, during my chaplain residency. He later planted a seed when he led a clergy consultation group, pointing out that hospice chaplaincy was a growing field. As I prepared to move to Maryland, I explored ministry in the local church, but also applied to hospices and hospitals hear our home. A hospice was the first to offer me a full-time position. This has been a good fit for nearly 12 years now.

The UMC focuses on life transformation in Jesus Christ, what story can you share about transformation because of this ministry?  

I provided spiritual support to a patient whose last wish was to reconcile with an adult son from whom she was estranged. The hospice team provided symptom management, spiritual support, and psychosocial support to the patient as she and her spouse processed what had contributed to the estrangement, hoped for reconciliation, and lived with the possibility that the patient might die without restoring the relationship. With the patient’s permission, I left a voicemail for the son, relaying the patient’s hope to see him and to ask for forgiveness. The son never returned the call, nor came to the facility. When the patient was no longer verbal, at the spouse’s request, I left a voicemail for the son that the patient appeared to be near death. Unannounced, he came to the facility on the patient’s final night, calling the patient’s spouse to tell him that he was at the facility. The spouse met him there. The son stayed in his parents’ home through the funeral and following week. The father and son planned to stay in touch. This was a moment of grace, of forgiveness and of redemption.

What brings you joy in this ministry?

One of the social workers at our inpatient facility called to ask if a chaplain was available to perform a commitment ceremony for a patient who was expected to die in a matter of hours to days. I arrived to meet the couple, he lay in bed wearing nothing from the waist up because of a fever and she sitting by the bed, holding his hand. They expressed their love for each other, emphasizing that they were asking for a commitment ceremony, not a wedding ceremony to be recognized by the state. We talked about their love that had grown over the last several years. I adapted a wedding service so that it would be appropriate to their unique situation; the social worker served as a witness. Just as I was about to begin the service a friend arrived. He offered the bare-chested groom his tie, which the bride lovingly helped him tie. She then lay in bed beside him, as they celebrated their commitment to each other. Thus, Montgomery Hospice helped to grant a wish that brought them peace. The patient died peacefully only a few days later. His bride talked about what peace the service brought to both of them.

What challenges you in this ministry?

I am challenged by meeting each person where they are in their journey at end of life. When the nurse, social worker, and I walk through the door for our initial visit, the patient and or family are coming to terms with the patient likely having six months or less to live. Some people are relieved as they are ready to move from curative care to comfort care. Others are shocked at the news or angry with God. Many are in the midst of mild to intense grief. My role, and the role of the hospice team, is to explore what brings meaning, connection, and strength to the patient and the family. Part of the challenge is being with people who are wary of a chaplain: will I respect their beliefs, whether they identify as religious, spiritual, or as someone with no belief in God or a higher power. Another is being with people who feel alienated from a family member, organized religion, or God. I strive to be with them in a way helps them to move from spiritual distress to well-being. I endeavor to listen deeply, being silent when appropriate, so that I am present in the way that they need.

The church wants to pray for you, what is your prayer request? 

Please pray for me to have the wisdom to be present as I strive to listen deeply so as to be an instrument of God’s peace to all people. I hope to understand and enhance their hope, meaning, and connection. Please pray for all of us who are in ministry and that we continue to be heirs of John Wesley, riding this part of the circuit.

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