Most pastors shepherd a church, or perhaps several church campuses. Meet Chaplain Jerry Thomas, whose parishioners are patients.
Chaplain Thomas has typical 8-5 hours at his office next to the chapel at Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital. But he’s on call 24/7 and has spent 16 years serving patients and their families in the Memorial Hermann Hospital system. Married 30 years to Brenda, he’s raised two daughters who grew up knowing why his particular calling often took him away from home at odd hours. Often a call late at night could mean life or death.
“Everyone needs a friend when they’re sick,” says Thomas, and this may be as simple as a comforting presence or a friendly “hello.” But others need much more. “There are some differences in pastoral care and chaplaincy care,” says Thomas. “For instance, a pastor may have congregants who tune out during a Sunday morning service. My congregants are hospital patients, and those critically ill or facing death are highly tuned in. Their minds are open. When people are scared, they want someone present to help reconcile their life and their death.”
In fact, some come to the hospital without family or a support structure. These patients may or may not have a church home. Perhaps they had a bad church experience. For whatever reason, Thomas becomes their pastor. “Whether it’s a three day stay, or the last three hours of their life, I’m there for them. It’s an honor to make sure they do not die alone, and it’s a privilege when I’m asked to officiate at their funerals,” he explains.
Thomas attended Baylor University and was ordained and licensed as a Southern Baptist, but attends a nondenominational church in Simonton. “I care for people of all denominations and faiths and my church home reflects that,” he says. He was a hospice chaplain before he became a hospital chaplain, and in 1995 he obtained his Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and interviewed at three hospitals. He chose Hermann and learned through first hand experience what a Level 1 Trauma Unit entails. Through the years he’s built wonderful relationships with pastors and priests in and around Katy. “I don’t hesitate to call a Catholic priest who can administer Last Rights, or a Rabbi for Jewish patients,” says Thomas.
The chapel at Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital is open around the clock for families and patients who want to visit. Readers are encouraged to stop by and say hello to Chaplain Thomas, who provides such a meaningful resource to patients. You can learn more about the Memorial Hermann Hospital system chaplaincy program at www.memorialhermann.org/servicesandprograms/chaplaincyservices/.