The Mutual Blessing of Ministry

The Mutual Blessing of Ministry

By Tom Nuckels, Director of Spiritual Care, Central Texas

Today, I met Louis, a frail, gentle soul in a ninety-three year old body.

When I entered the room of an unanswered knock, I noticed that he was sleeping. I gently crept passed the bed to a sofa near the window, and as I normally do in such cases, I wrote a short note and left it and a pillow on the bedside table. Patients are awakened at all hours of the day and night, so I do not make it a practice to add to their distress by insisting that they spend time in conversation if sleep is on their agenda.

As I headed toward the door, passing by the foot of the bed to make my escape, he opened one eye, and spying me said something like, “Hey there, how are you?” and pulled me back into the room with his words.

We shook hands and greeted. Though weak, he smiled often and we talked of life and faith. He affirmed, “I wouldn’t be here this long without Him!” He spoke of his love for family, his gratitude for the doctors and hospital staff and appreciation for me taking out time to come. When prayer was offered, he said, “You can never get too much prayer!” as he smiled.

Since he appeared tired, our visit would be short today. As I left the room, continuing to my next patient, I thought to myself, “Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to meet this gentle soul, one of your genuinely sweet saints today; a child of God in his last days or hours.” What a blessed privilege, to be in that holy space with him and to have connection and communion for a moment, through smiles, touch, words of quiet speech, and the intimacy of prayer.

May God bless this soul and he has blessed mine through Louis today.

“May your life be an answer to someone’s prayer”—Macrina Weiderkehr

SUMMER 2016 Intern Applications Now Being Accepted


MAY 13 – AUGUST 5, 2016


For program description, qualifications, and information on how to apply, go to

According to Lifeline’s mission statement, we are

Dedicated to providing compassionate support to the seriously ill, their families and caregivers, and to being an educational resource for crisis ministry.

One of the ways we fulfill our teaching mission is through our summer intern program. Students come to Houston to gain first-hand experience providing pastoral care in the Texas Medical Center Hospitals supervised by Dr. Paul Riddle, Director of Spiritual Care, Houston. Likewise, we have students coming to Fort Worth, to gain first-hand experience providing pastoral care in the Fort Worth area hospitals under the supervision of Dr. David Martin, Director of Spiritual Care for Lifeline Tarrant County. In 2016 the program will expand to Austin, where interns will be supervised by Dr. Tom Nuckels, Director of Spiritual Care for Lifeline Central Texas.

Our interns learn by doing, and then by reflecting on what they have done. Each is assigned to a particular hospital and gets to know that hospital intimately through daily visitation with patients and caregivers, and through regular contact with hospital staff members and Lifeline volunteers assigned to that hospital.

Interns spend half their day in classroom instruction and the other half visiting patients in their assigned hospitals. Classroom sessions include case studies, discussions of books and articles pertaining to spiritual care, and other activities.

Weekly reflection essays and periodic case studies drawn from interns’ visits provide opportunities for them to integrate what they learn in the classroom with their ministry practice and their personal spiritual growth. In addition to these activities, the interns spend a week at Camp Star Trails, a camp for children with cancer sponsored by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Even though our interns are with us for only twelve weeks, they enrich the permanent Lifeline community – staff and volunteers alike – immeasurably. We trust that their experience with us will enrich them as well.



By Paul Riddle


All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.


                                                                                    2 Corinthians 1:3 (The Message)


Earlier in my career, I served almost a decade as a chaplain in the United States Navy. During those years, I spent a lot of time aboard warships at sea, supporting the sailors and Marines who form the backbone of our sea services.

One of the indelible images that remains with me from my years at sea is that of an operation known as underway replenishment (or, in Navy jargon, UNREP). When a Navy ship needs more fuel, food or other supplies, it doesn’t always have the luxury of pulling into the nearest port like you or I would pull our cars into the nearest gas station or convenience store. It has to be able to get what it needs through underway replenishment. During an UNREP, the ship comes alongside a support ship, hoses and lines are strung between the two ships (which, by the way are moving), and the support ship provides whatever is needed. It’s thrilling, and a little scary, being aboard a ship during an UNREP. The ships are close together, and the operation tests the nerve and shiphandling skills of both crews, but the result is worth the effort.

“Coming alongside” is an apt image for the spiritual care Lifeline’s volunteers provide to the patients and families we serve. In underway replenishment, each ship is fully seaworthy and has its own captain and crew. The supply ship doesn’t take over the mission of the other ship. It simply comes alongside and provides the support that is needed. Similarly, in pastoral encounters with patients and family members, our volunteers come alongside, not to fix or to take over, but to listen, to pray, and to engage in caring conversation. By doing these things – and even more importantly by simply being there – our volunteers offer reassurance of God’s steadfast love and abiding presence. This is the unique contribution spiritual care makes to patients’ healing and wholeness.

This contribution is reflected in the following lines from a patient, recently discharged from Methodist Hospital, who wrote to express her thanks to Lifeline’s volunteers who came alongside her and her family during a long illness:

Thank you all for such a wonderful ministry. I appreciate all the visits, prayers, communion, and support for my family during my lengthy 2-month stay at Methodist Hospital in Houston. It was so nice being so far away from our own congregation, but having brothers and sisters in Christ to visit. Special thanks to [several named volunteers] and all the others that continued to pray for us. In Christian love…


I was thinking about George today.  He would wander into the West Virginia church building anytime the doors were open.  George was different.  Because of an extremely violent crime against a small child in the 1950’s, he had been lobotomized.  George was now childlike in his affect.  His hygiene wasn’t the best and his living conditions were horrendous.  Nevertheless, the church took him in and offered fellowship.  Occasionally, I would get a call from George asking me to pick him up downtown.  On at least two occasions, he had been beaten by drug crazed addicts.  George lived on government assistance, and the kindness of strangers.  When he failed to satisfy they would be thieves, they simply beat him in anger.  On these unfortunate occasions, George would be submitted to the hospital, and having no known family, it fell to me to become his medical power of attorney.  At the time, I had no idea what that really entailed, but being assured it did not commit me financially, I agreed.  The men of the small church cleaned his apartment twice, hitting it with industrial strength roach killer, to no avail.  The years rolled on and George’s safety became a increasing concern.  The social worker finally had him placed in a group home some sixty miles away…not the optimum situation, but at least he would be safely off the streets.  Some six months after placing him in the adult home, George developed cancer.  He was unaware of his diagnosis and we didn’t tell him.

My last time to see him was in a Huntington, WV hospital where he spoke in awed tones describing how the staff would bring him steak and baked potatoes anytime he asked for it.  “I have clean clothes, and clean sheets, and I’m warm!”  So George and I agreed that God indeed had been good to him.  I prayed over him and left.  He died warm and fed about ten days later.

Twenty years have gone by, but I think of George from time to time.  The church did good by this lonely man.  I played a part, too, and that’s a good feeling even now.

The next time you see a George out there, maybe you could get involved.  Know that you will not regret it, if Christ is urging you on.  I don’t think Jesus will steer you wrong.

David Martin

How Are You Doing?

How are you doing?

My answer to this question is evolving. I want my answer to be genuine, understandable, and inspiring. This is a work in progress and a worthy task. I like what I am discovering as I refine my answers.

How are you doing? Most of my life I have said, “Good,” or “Fine.” These are socially acceptable and get me by. But I want to stand out and reach for something greater. When asked this question the late Zig Ziglar would say with gusto, “Better than good!” What follows are some answers I’ve tried recently.

How are you doing? I’ve said, “I love being a Christian.” This one usually gets no response, or a glance at me with a blank expression.

How are you doing? I’ve said, “I have never been happier in my life.” The response has been usually a pause then, “That’s nice.” or “I like that.”

A friend of mine answers this way, “Everything is going RIGHT!”

I like the response I get when I reply, “I’m drinking from the river of delight!”

And one more, “How are you doing?” – “I am thrilled with making disciples of Jesus.”

I remember my dad often responded with, “Fine, if I am the judge.” And he would smile.

When we give thought to our answers to common questions, sometimes they pay great dividends. Recently I asked a caller how they were doing and she replied, “I’ve done better.” I think she had anticipated my asking her how she was doing and her reply got my attention. I took her answer as a cry for help, and a plea for me to hear how she was feeling. That’s what I want to do as a chaplain and as a friend.

Share some of your answers with me. I’ll be listening.

Jesse Stroup

Desert Sand

”There is no wilderness so terrible, so beautiful, so arid and so fruitful as the wilderness of compassion.  It is in the desert of compassion that the thirsty land turns into springs of water, that the poor possess all things.”

Thomas Merton

The patient told of an act of betrayal in her marriage.  Hurt and pain creased her brow and sorrow dripped from eyes to cheeks, then finally spotted the white sheets of her bed.  An automobile wreck had further altered her reality, twisting and breaking limbs.  She faced a long stay in a rehabilitation facility.

The chaplain listened in sorrow.  So much suffering in one life!  The question sprang to his mind, but fell from the patient’s lips, “Why has God put so much on me at one time?

So dry in the room. No fixes. No advice to give as a bandage to her pain. Her suffering had taken his breath away.  Nothing “to do” in the midst of this horror descending into her life.log

However, there was communion.  There was communion and compassion.  And between the two sprang forth the water of relationship.  The patient invited the chaplain to come back.

The room seemed less like a desert now and more like an oasis in the middle of the desert…a place where the lily can bloom once again.

The Lily of the Valley enters with compassion and sits with the wounded in the arid places  That’s all.  And that is everything, for the wilderness is where Christ enters most powerfully.

So the next time someone tells you they are lost in the wilderness, sit quietly with them there.  See what might burst forth from desert sand.

David Martin

Chaplaincy: A Ministry of Presence

Chaplaincy: A Ministry of Presence

By Tom Nuckels, Director of Spiritual Care, Lifeline Chaplaincy Central Texas

“Listening carefully and responding accurately to the story of another is a true ministry. To be understood and accepted by another person is a treasured dimension of human living. It is also the first movement of any kind of care.” Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals, Herbert Anderson & Edward Foley, p.45.

I suppose one of the most important lessons I have learned over the last fifteen years of hospital ministry is that of the ministry of presence. I confess that this singular aspect of the care of souls was, initially, a difficult concept for me. I came on board with Lifeline Chaplaincy following thirty years of preaching ministry. Although I saw my ministry within the church setting as highly pastoral, there was that personal need to “do something religious” when I entered a hospital room. I do not think I am alone in this. Most preachers, elders, and other church leaders that I know, when being trained as a chaplain or volunteer, have to overcome their own personal need and agenda to preach, read scripture, or pray before they leave the hospital room. Although these are all good things to “do,” they are not always conducive to a hospital visit. The patient may be comatose, sedated, or may have a myriad of other conditions which are not always favorable for the performance of religious acts that I might have on my agenda as a visitor. Please do not misunderstand me here. I believe all of those things mentioned are important to do when the time and occasion is right for the patient. I also believe that prayer and the reading of Scripture create an atmosphere that helps a patient make vital connections with the Divine and reminds them of God’s love and compassion toward them. However, I have learned to not have an agenda to “do” anything, but to “be” present with a patient when I am at their bedside. So, the ministry of presence is more about “being” than “doing.” It’s about being available to others and coming alongside of them in the midst of their suffering, loss, or pain. It’s about asking productive questions, reflecting back to them in order that they might hear their story in the words of another, and somehow begin to make sense of their plight, and how their story relates to their present experience and how God fits into that story.

Recently, I visited at the bedside of the wife of a church leader whom I had known for a number of years. She had suffered with a number of debilitating illnesses, including cancer and diabetes. This would be the last time I would see her alive. As I entered the room, her grown children were there, a grand-daughter was seated making phone calls, and the patient’s husband was seated next to the bed, holding her hand. I now know that the patient was actively dying, as she was in a comatose state, kidney and respiratory functions were rapidly failing as well. I recall not knowing what to say, but remember hugging the family, then pulled up a chair next to my friend. I remember listening to him talk about the sixty plus years of marriage they had together and stories of raising children as well as grandchildren. I remember having my arm around his shoulders while he talked. As other friends and family entered to say their goodbyes, I remember standing over to the side for a couple of hours. When I did finally leave, I remember my friend saying something like, “thanks for being here.” So, even though prayers were said, and some words from Scripture were read, what he thanked me for was being there; being present. And in the final analysis, isn’t that what we want from a friend? We really don’t want to be told how “everything will be okay” when in that moment it’s not. Nor do we appreciate unsolicited advice. What we need is someone to be present and attentive to our needs, to listen, really listen to our stories, our concerns, without fixing us.

I didn’t really say much that day at the bedside of my friend’s wife. I do believe I got it right that day, however. I just came alongside to be with him and his family. I believe I have learned the important role of the ministry of presence. It is enough, at times, to just “be.” It is possibly the most we can do for others in time of their pain. Anderson and Foley are right; listening is “the first movement of any kind of care.” I want to remember that. Thank you for supporting Lifeline Chaplaincy so that we can be that ministry of presence to others.

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…”—James 1:19