While the idea of a SoWal Community Chaplain might be a new one, chaplains have actually been serving here for years. Chaplains, both paid and volunteer, play a vital role in providing spiritual and crisis care in our community in partnership with Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast.

At Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast there are two full-time chaplains on staff, Trisha Wiscombe and Jeff Carlton.

Wiscombe is the new spiritual care specialist for Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast and Port St. Joe's Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf. She grew up as part of a military family in Enterprise, Alabama, but most recently worked as a chaplain for Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City. She finds a spiritual home in the Anglican faith tradition and is passionate about helping people see God at work in their lives.

Carlton’s background is in the Presbyterian Church of America, and he has a particular heart for the plight of families battling cancer.

Pastor Jason Scheler of Hope on the Beach serves in a part-time capacity, providing on-call coverage for the hospital during times when the full-time staff are not on-site, as do a number of other volunteer chaplains.

Although most chaplains are ordained as clergy in their faith tradition, serving as a hospital chaplain is much more about providing spiritual and emotional support than teaching or proselytizing. Chaplains don’t encourage membership in any one church or denomination, but attempt to minister to people from a variety of faith traditions as well as the non-religious. Chaplains in a hospital function in a supportive role, as part of a larger care team. Wiscombe describes the duties of a chaplain as follows:

• provides active listening and comfort;

• assesses spiritual needs;

• helps people explore beliefs and values, clarify options and access hospital resources;

• supports patient’s efforts to reconcile with God;

• facilitates interpersonal communication;

• communicates with patient’s spiritual community if requested;

• supports people through codes, traumas, death, grief, and other life experiences.

Pastor Pete Hyde of Community Church in Santa Rosa Beach began volunteering as a chaplain for Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast shortly after his arrival here 15 years ago.

“I really had no idea what I was getting into,” Hyde said. “I found myself sitting next to families that had just lost loved ones who had no church affiliation and offering the comfort of Christ even if the actual words were never said.

“I found myself in the ER after a multiple drowning offering crowd control as well as assistance to the families and friends and then staying for hours afterward helping the hospital staff deal with the situation for many days after," he added. "I found myself involved with the first responders and all levels of the hospital staff when the Air Heart chopper went down many years ago. I have stood by the crib of stillborn and held the hand of family members of those who lived a full and rich life and were making their way to heaven, most of whom I have not heard from again and only hope and pray that God was felt through my presence or words. I see the critical health issues in my past and the ones that continue, as places where God has enabled me to know more clearly what patients and families are going through.”

So next time you give thanks for the great medical care we have access to through Sacred Heart Hospital, don’t forget to include the chaplains.

This article was previously published in SoWal Life (July 2018).