By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
NASHVILLE — Skyline Medical Center in Nashville is a mission field ripe for ministry opportunities, says chaplain Bill Palmiter.
Palmiter, who retired as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Greenbrier in 2007 after 20 years of ministry, has been a volunteer chaplain for 23 years and has been the lead chaplain at Skyline for about a year.
He, along with Julie Davis, director of volunteer and chaplain services at Skyline, are leading an effort to recruit chaplains and other volunteers for a number of other areas such as registration and waiting service areas.
The needs are great at Skyline which is known for its neuroscience program for stroke victims and its burn victims, he said.
“We minister to the sickest of the sick and their families,” he said.
Noting that the vast majority of the patients are 60 years and older, the chaplain observed that health conditions prevent many of them from attending church and they are often overlooked across denominational lines.
In addition, over the past six months patients, when asked to mark a religious preference, indicated they had none. Baptists were the largest denomination, cited by 16.38 percent. Islam was the largest world religion cited. “Ministry is needed here,” Palmiter affirmed.
Davis agreed. “Everything we do here has a missions and ministry emphasis,” she stressed.
The hospital’s desire to meet not only physical needs but spiritual needs of patients and staff is evident at Skyline’s highest level.
Dustin Greene, CEO of Skyline, is fully supportive of the chaplaincy program. Because of the hospital’s reputation for treating trauma and stroke patients, people “end up here in life-saving moments,” observed Greene, a member of Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood.
“One of the most important times that you can connect with the loving, living God is when you’re desperate,” he observed. “Patients and their families need spiritual leadership and connectivity during those times … and they need someone to pray with them and love them,” Greene added.
The hospital leader also noted that what the patients need also is needed by the staff of the hospital. He noted the two years since the introduction of COVID-19 has been hard on everyone. “Our staff is hurting. They need spiritual and emotional help as well,” he affirmed.
“In a hospital, there are opportunities every minute to share the gospel,” Greene said. “If you want to be in a position to share a loving God to people who are desperate, you can have that at a hospital like Skyline.”
Greene acknowledged that Skyline “is not a faith-based organization” but words on a building don’t make an organization one of faith or one without faith. Rather it is the people in the organization who do that. “Am I supposed to leave my faith at the door? No.”
Noting he has to be careful about directly sharing his faith, he “can be visible and vocal about his faith.”
Davis said Greene is very open about his faith. “The Bible on his desk is not for show,” she affirmed.
His commitment is shared by Davis and Palmiter and is the reason they are actively seeking volunteers. “We see each encounter as an opportunity to show others the love of Jesus,” Davis said. “We are a non-denominational facility; however, we may be the only ‘Jesus’ people see in their lives. We are here to offer hope and encourage our patients along their unique journey. If we find a need, we try to fill it.”
Meeting those needs requires a presence, Palmiter said. “I have been praying for those who have been trained in pastoral care to respond to God’s call to step up and volunteer as chaplains in their local hospitals.
“It is a mission field right in their own backyard. I am also open to lay people, called of God, who are willing to be trained in this challenging ministry,” he added.
Davis said Skyline’s volunteer office is open M-F from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. “If you would like to volunteer or have someone you know in your church, neighborhood, family etc. please call 615- 769-2200 for an application packet and to set up an appointment to meet our team,” she said. B&R