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Chaplain serves as point person for hospital

by Sam Pierce | April 4, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.
In 2019, Chad Graves was hired part time by White River Health System to enhance the system’s Pastoral Care Program. Graves, who is also a pastor at the Compass Church in Batesville, provides care to patients, families and staff.

Chad Graves spent 10 years at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro as an evangelist and a college pastor, and another 10 as a preacher at a church in Monticello. Before moving to Batesville, he took a year off from ministry.

“I became neck-deep, pastoring a local church for a decade,” he said of his time at Monticello. “The church grew, we added some staff, and we wore ourselves out. I was drained to the point where I was empty.”

He said he had an opportunity to go to other places, but he felt like he needed a break.

“Coming out of that break, I felt like I was just a much more empathetic person,” Graves said. “I was just emptied out, and after taking that year off and arriving in Batesville, it opened up a new season in my life.”

In January 2019, Graves was hired part time by White River Health System to enhance the system’s Pastoral Care Program. Graves provides care to patients, families and staff. He helps with trauma care and the coordination of volunteer chaplains at White River Medical Center. He was recently nominated as a Spirit of Independence honoree by the White River system.

According to the nomination, “Graves built a successful pastoral-care program with a team of volunteer chaplains, a biweekly Bible study and other activities to serve the spiritual needs of patients, their families and employees.”

Graves said he is thankful to be a part of the pastoral-care team.

“This town, the community of Batesville, is such a great community,” Graves said. “It has been so welcoming. We have not been here very long, but we have been so loved and accepted and really invited in. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of.”

Graves is also the pastor of discipleship and ministry at The Compass Church in Batesville. He said that when he came to Batesville, he began to search for a place in the community where he might serve intentionally, outside of the church.

“I began to pray about that, and one day, I was at the hospital having breakfast, and it seemed confirmed that this was a place where I was needed to help out and serve,” Graves said. “I poked my head in the door and said I was glad to do what I could, and if they were in need of a chaplain — that was my first experience.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole hospital was shut down to visitors, and Graves was the only chaplain for the entire facility.

“When COVID hit, I was able to sit with patients who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have anybody come and sit with them,” Graves said. “There was a moment where I was so blown away by the sheer amount of work, and when I would leave the hospital, there was still so much work to be done.

“During COVID, there were lots of visits and taking phone calls from family members.”

According to www.white, “the late Jim Black started the WRMC Pastoral Care Program in 1995 as the first chaplain.”

Pre-COVID-19, Graves would meet with administrators and executives at the hospital for a time of prayer and encouragement. From there, Graves began looking for local pastors and ministers to help in the chaplaincy. Eventually, he was able to recruit seven pastors who would take one night to be available or on call for the hospital.

Randy Scott, a pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Batesville, said he joined Graves because he wanted to help the hurting people at the hospital.

“Oftentimes, people at the hospital are at a very lonely place,” Scott said. “There is just a need for someone to come in and enter your world, your brokenness, and provide a little bit of hope and instruction on how to persevere through that.”

Scott said he and the other ministers were shut out of the hospital from March until November, with Graves really being the only one allowed in. Scott said if someone was in the hospital, he would ask Graves to go visit them.

“Our role comes from visiting patients with each of us going on different days,” Scott said. “I’ll do Tuesdays and do what I like to call ‘hospital rounds,’ where I will go to the hospital and visit with patients. …

“We’ve all kind of grown attached to certain areas of the hospital, like one of our guys grew a real heart for the [intensive care unit], and for me, it has been Stepping Stone, which is a drug-rehab and mental-health center.”

He said his church provided large-print Bibles because a lot of the center’s clients are homeless and need glasses.

“Chaplaincy is the ministry of presence,” Graves said. “It is the privilege of being invited and being allowed with people. … This is what this year has been about — sometimes people who don’t have anyone else.

“It has been amazing.”

Ronnie Toon works for the Independence Baptist Association, which is a group of churches that develops partnerships and ministry strategies.

“Volunteering at the hospital has enabled me to have personal contact with people who might need a word of hope,” Toon said. “I’ve known Chad [Graves] since he moved to Batesville, and he serves as the point person for the hospital.

“Every week that I work at the hospital, there is always somebody who is grateful for the hospital allowing clergy to come and visit — it brightens their day.”

“A chaplain can come along and usher in a sense of presence of God with them," Graves said.


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