Reflecting on a Year of Ministry in a Pandemic – Prayer Beads

by the Reverend Deacon Ann Vander Berg

The wardrobe of the pandemic: masked to protect our eyes, nose, and mouth, covering ourselves with protective gowns and latex free medical grade gloves. Our personal and professional style, the clothing we chose to wear, intentional, thoughtful choices; our hair style, facial bone structure and smiles, all neutralized and dulled by necessity. 

Ann (left) and colleague and fellow parishioner Dr. Bev Hattersley pose in their pandemic wardrobe.

In healthcare, while spiritual care is a valued professional specialization, most disciplines regularly and significantly contribute to the spiritual well-being of patients. They use their own seasoned language, mediating sacred encounters that heal even when they do not always cure. Dr. Bev Hattersley, palliative care physician at St. Peter’s Hospital (and a St. James, Dundas parishioner) and I sat down and shared some of our common thoughts and experiences while working in the context of the pandemic. 

We focused our conversation on the following two questions: What grace is present while wearing the wardrobe of the pandemic? How do we forge relationships through these barriers when people just see our eyes? 

One of the biggest losses in our respective professional practices is the loss of touch. Holding a patient’s hand in prayer, or to comfort, or while having a difficult conversation. Rubbing a person’s back who is grieving. Hugging to comfort or offer our strength to borrow. If it is the sparseness of the pandemic providing us with the eyes to see or if it is a new and precious gift from God, we both have a heightened awareness of trust. 

This grace stands out in several ways. It enables us along with all the staff to show up for work and do our best no matter how depleted we feel. We realize care taking of ourselves happens in each other. Before we meet with a patient we offer a quiet prayer aware that we enter another’s sacred story. Grace filled, exquisite moments of beauty multiply like precious pearls on a strand as prayer beads. They spark and give energy to a cloud covered pandemic. We participate in the presence of the holy in the lives of patients, some of whom on the outside may otherwise appear broken. We receive a confidence from staff. Above all, the boundaries of the pandemic has not been able to take away a huge amount of kindness. 

With loving trust we hold close our prayer beads as we pray and work, pray and work, pray and work.

Ann is a deacon at St. James Dundas and psycho-spiritual practitioner/chaplain, at St. Peter’s Hospital, Hamilton Health Sciences.