Local hospital chaplains steady in faith while bringing spiritual healing to patients

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When you think about frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19, doctors and nurses most often come to mind, but there are others roaming the halls of local hospitals also hoping to provide healing.

In the face of sickness and death, doctors and nurses bear witness to pain and suffering in the middle of a pandemic.

But as Dave Lucceshi can attest, that suffering is not only physical.

“In serious conditions like this, it puts people in a confrontation between between faith and suffering, and those two are hard to reconcile sometimes,” he said.

Lucchesi, chaplain at St. Francis Hospital, has been a chaplain for 35 years.

His job is spiritual healing, and it’s never been more challenging.

“So they want to know someone’s by their side, on this journey with them, you know, and if we can connect that good, strong family member to them also, knowing you’re not alone,” Lucchesi said.

He said loneliness only compounds the suffering.

“It is a big, big issue because no one wants to be alone and sick in a hospital, but unfortunately, the restrictions are there to protect them, and you can’t see your loved ones, and you can’t see ministers, and you can’t see anyone,” Lucchesi said. “It is difficult.”

“You’re behind a face shield and goggles, and multiple masks and your gown,” Mississippi Baptist Medical Center Chaplain Heath Ferguson said.

Ferguson has been a chaplain for the past 10 years, but in the past 10 weeks, he and others at Mississippi Baptist Medical Center have experienced more sickness, more death and more fear than ever before.

“Sometimes I have to just have to pause and ask myself ‘Are you really OK?’” he said. “And sometimes because we see so much, I wonder, how could I be OK right now?”

Many on the frontlines are not OK after willingly putting themselves in harm’s way.

“I found myself praying for friends and co-workers that i’d worked beside for years because they’re now in a new danger,” Ferguson said. “And when I go into a room, there is a danger present. And I think about my wife and my two boys and what I don’t want to take home with them.”

Thankfully he hasn’t, but Dave Lucchesi was not as fortunate. 

Both he and his wife were infected.

“We’re very fortunate to not have a very severe case, but even a light case is not good,” Lucchesi said. “But I do understand what patients are dealing with and understand the uncertainty of whether they’re going to get better or not get better, and that indeed broadened my whole perspective about being a minister in that situation.”

“It can be overwhelming,” Ferguson said. “I work with some of the most selfless and tireless caregivers, as you could imagine, caring for someone. But I worry about them, sometimes because of that darkness, that being in the valley of the shadow of death and dealing with it and not knowing when or if there is an end in sight anytime soon.”

The two men are both praying for an end but remaining steadfast in faith to help others see it through.

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