Garrett-Evangelical News

Garrett-Evangelical Alumnae featured in the Chicago Tribune

Garrett-Evangelical 2008 alumnae, Christy Howard-Steele, is praised in today's Chicago Tribune newspaper for her work as a hospital chaplain.

Taken from chicagotribune.com

Hospital chaplain grows into unexpected role

Friends had relied on her calm spirit in crises -- and now patients and their families do too

Written by Dawn Turner Trice

Sept. 14, 2009

Before Christy Howard-Steele decided to go to seminary, she had been an actuary and then a restaurateur who occasionally got together with close friends in each others' homes to pray about whatever weighed heavily on their hearts. Over the years, friends had come to recognize and depend on her calm spirit in the middle of a crisis.

However friends viewed her, Howard-Steele never imagined that one day she would be working as a staff chaplain at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. Neither did she envision herself in some of the situations she's been in: Having to take an angry, grieving man who was nearly a foot taller than her by the arm and escort him out of a hospital room rather than allowing security to do it; lending an ear to hospital staffers dealing with their own grief after losing patients, particularly young ones, to whom they had grown attached.

These days, you might see Howard-Steele traveling the airy corridors of the hospital's surgical and neurological intensive care unit. The way she dresses tells you a bit about her philosophy.

She wears a suit jacket with ample pockets that frees up her hands so that she can reach out to patients and loved ones, rubbing their backs and stroking their hands. She wears clog shoes so that she can sprint from one place to another, depending on where she's paged. And she never, ever wears a clergy collar.

"I don't' wear one because I want the patient to be free to say whatever he or she wants without feeling bound by notions of what can be said to the clergy," said Howard-Steele, 54, who is part of a staff of chaplains who come from diverse faith traditions.

A collar also might not allow those who are grieving the freedom to express themselves in the sometimes unbridled, sometimes indelicate ways they might need at the moment.

"A patient's family members may be so grief-stricken that they're on the floor crying," she said. "It's not unusual for me to get down on the floor with them. I believe that God meets us where we are and how one feels about God flows into how one ministers to people."

Howard-Steele started at Christ hospital as an intern in 2006, while studying to get her master's degree in divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She became a staff member last September. I asked her how one chooses this type of pastoral care.

"I don't say I chose this," she said. "I say I was called to do it."

She believes it's a calling that requires a chaplain to be emotionally involved -- for those who want to talk; some don't -- but to the point where she can still discern how to best help the person in need.

Christ hospital is one of the busiest trauma centers in the state with more than 81,000 patient visits a year in the emergency room. Over the last eight months, the number of gunshot victims entering the ER has increased by about 8 percent compared with the same period last year.

On a recent Saturday night, Howard-Steele counseled the victim of a motorcycle accident; acted as a witness to a patient who was signing a power of attorney; prayed with a heart attack patient; comforted the family of a little boy who was riding a bike and was hit by a car that didn't stop.

That night, Howard-Steele also ministered to the families of three youths who had been shot. Because the hospital has a relationship with CeaseFire, the Chicago-based group that's trying to reduce the magnitude of street violence, staffers call group representatives who attempt to intercede, particularly if patients or family members are talking about retaliation.

"We've seen more people shot in the lower abdomen and buttocks," she said. "I've heard that the shooters are aiming to maim rather than kill. It makes me angry that we as a society can't figure out how to solve this problem of kids shooting kids."

Howard-Steele said that during her time as a chaplain, she has made some follow-up calls to family members to check on their well being, and she's attended the funeral of one patient.

"But for most of the people, I know them only in the space of the situation," she said. "And when they're here, they want to know, 'Why me?' They ask: 'Why am I suffering? Why do I have cancer? I've lived a good, healthy life. Why did I have to lose a parent? Why did I lose my child?'

"My job is to affirm the question of 'why.' It's one we all have. I try to create an opening for one's spirituality to respond."

View the original article here.
Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune

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