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 ship-handling 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.