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The USA Medical Center is now the home to two chaplains who work with patients voluntarily through spiritual treatment and care. A chaplain’s primary goal is to provide spiritual support in the hospital environment to patients, family members, and staff upon request. They are available to provide assistance for people who may be struggling with religious issues or in need of counseling during a time of crisis or death.
Although the chaplains follow their own individual faiths, their purpose is to allow the patient and family to define their own spirituality and set the agenda for the conversation. They aim to practice ministry with a non-denominational perspective in order to reach out and help as many people as possible.
Tyree Richburg, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Mobile, says he has been working voluntarily at USA Medical Center for more than 15 years. Richburg reads passages of scripture with people and many times deals with terminally ill patients or the families of someone who has recently passed. “When I am called to the hospital, I ask the Lord to give me scripture that these people need because every situation is different,” he said. “I try to help them accept what has happened, not explain it, because no one fully understands the meaning of His ways.”
Although he does not receive monetary payment for his work at USA, Richburg says his work is very rewarding. “Your pay comes from above and from doing what we believe the Lord would have us do,” he says. “What better reward could you have?”
Richburg received training at Alabama Inter-Domination Seminary and graduated with a master’s in theology and an honorary doctorate degree. He also attended the Tuskeegee Institute, now known as Tuskegee University, and finished his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at the University of South Alabama in 1973. Previously, he worked in law enforcement in the Mobile area for 40 years, worked for the Justice Department under the Carter Administration and served in the United States Navy during WWII. Richburg and his wife will celebrate their 60th anniversary this year.
Walter Staggs, an ordained minister, joined the USA Medical Center as a volunteer chaplain last May. He works five days a week, eight hours a day on a volunteer basis. Although he is a C.P.A. with both a law and accounting degree from the University of Alabama, Staggs says being a chaplain is his calling.
Staggs graduated with a master’s degree in chaplaincy from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He has a wide variety of experience as a hospital chaplain and is the author of The Healing Ministry of the Church. He is also a member of Billy Graham’s Rapid Response Team, a ministry of crisis trained volunteer chaplains who deploy in the aftermath of a disaster to respond to the emotional and spiritual needs of people in crisis.
He primarily works in the ER as a trauma chaplain ministering in a wide variety of situations with patients and relatives in crisis and loss, as well as emotional strains of loneliness, guilt, and anger. “I am available here at the hospital to administer the spiritual needs of families, patients, and staff to give comfort to anyone who needs it.”
Other services provided by the chaplains include giving the Lord’s Supper and performing baptism services. They have also performed marriages upon request in the hospital. Many times they are simply available to contact a patient’s pastor when their services are needed and provide comfort and support until that person arrives.
“We do this because we love God and people,” says Richburg. “We have to have an attitude of gratitude, and the best way you show it is through how you treat others with love, loyalty, and devotion.”
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