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Mayo chaplain shares God’s presence and power amid COVID-19 pandemic

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communication, Dakotas UMC

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Rev. Randy Phillips. Dakotas Conference file photo.

"I am thankful for the privilege to be in ministry at Mayo Clinic – Rochester," says Rev. Randy Phillips, a Dakotas Conference elder. "I constantly remind myself that whatever is going on, God is present. God is at work." 

Rev. Randy Phillips is in his fifteenth year of ministry as a staff chaplain at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He works with a team of 24-27 chaplains to provide care on the Mayo Clinic—Rochester's, St. Mary's, and Methodist campuses to show the love of Jesus to persons at the most vulnerable moments of their lives. 

"My primary workplace is the Mayo Clinic Hospital—Rochester, St. Mary's campus," says Rev. Randy Phillips. "The COVID-19 pandemic has altered and increased my workload significantly, visiting patients and their families throughout the hospital in times of need."

He grew up in rural Nebraska, attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, graduating with a master's degree in counseling. Phillips began his career as a counselor in a Nebraska state prison. During that time, he experienced his mother's death from ovarian cancer, a life-changing faith experience. 

"My faith has always been important to me. I wrestled a lot with God during the time of my mother's illness and death," he says. "I found my faith increased. I spent a lot of time at the hospital, and I saw and experienced God. So, I headed to seminary."

Graduating from seminary, he desired to be a chaplain, but the process for chaplaincy did not fall into place at the time. Phillips found himself serving the Church of God in Grand Forks, North Dakota. There he met Rev. Harry Williams, a Dakotas Conference elder, who invited him to explore his call in the Dakotas Conference with The United Methodist Church.

He accepted the call to serve the Dakotas Conference at McLaughlin, South Dakota, and Cando, Minot Faith in North Dakota. 

"I rediscovered the possibility of chaplaincy and headed to Mayo in Rochester for a year of training. From there, I went to Erie, Pennsylvania, and served as a hospital chaplain for two years," says Rev. Phillips. "I came back to Mayo when there was an opening, and I have been here ever since." 

No Visitors

Rev. Phillips reports that COVID-19 has brought a norm of being six feet apart, wearing a face mask, with face-to-face contact for less than five minutes. A significant factor for chaplains and all medical personal during the Coronavirus pandemic is to control the disease's spread. That means isolation and limited visitation.  

"It was a rude reality interrupting 'normal lives,'" Phillips says. "Masks and distance are important and the norm. Isolation is the norm for patients. It needs to happen to control the disease, but it is emotionally and spiritually taxing for the patient. Being a chaplain during COVID-19 is rich, challenging, and important. There is way more work than there are chaplains."

Chaplains have the opportunity to come alongside patients and families, to listen and learn of the situation and the sometimes-insurmountable challenges before them. Chaplains reach out to all people regardless of their faith, religion and/or beliefs, meeting them where they are in their life and situation, honoring their faith or belief system, helping as they are able. The chaplaincy team at Mayo works together to see as many patients as possible and provide them some comfort in isolation. That may look like sitting in silence with someone, connecting them to family members using technology, praying with them, or for them.

 "Chaplains have the opportunity to honor the situation, and to invite a broader reality that may give them hope or strength," Phillips says. "This may invite remembering and naming meaningful resources and hope, for the moment and eternity. Patients may affirm their faith in God, support from their family, and loved ones. Reminders of a broader reality often change how they feel – realizing hope and a calm that is bigger than this situation, this world, even this life."

Rev. Phillips finds himself leaning on the support of the team he works with for encouragement. The team works to bring the assurance of God's presence for each other. He also found affirmation in reading Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis. 

Reading the Chronicles of Narnia was enriching for me," says Rev. Phillips. "It was a reminder that God works in peculiar ways, but they are awesome ways." 


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Mayo Clinic—Rochester is famous for quality medical care and research. Chaplains walk alongside not only the patients but also the medical professionals. During the season of the pandemic, the medical staff is stressed. The chaplaincy team reaches out through the SOS program—Support Our Staff, including chocolate, cards, mental health exercises, and prayer.

"God is doing a lot of things to show his power and love here at Mayo. Believing is seeing. Mayo doctors and researchers are working on all sorts of cures for diseases. I have to remind myself that they believe there is a cure out there," Phillip says. "I can pass along and share daring to believe that if Jesus can die on the cross for us and win over death, there are other things that God is doing as well to show his power, his love, his mercy, and change lives."

COVID-19 has brought an intensity to Rev. Phillips' work. It is essential to see all of the patients who make a request and know that there is a chaplain available. 

"The isolation is hard. It is critical for people to know we are there and available," says Rev. Phillips. "I hope to continue this ministry. It is difficult but rich. I am continually reminded of the truth that God loves everyone."  


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