Helen Corbett is one of four CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) residents at Northeast Georgia Medical Center serving hospitals in Gainesville and Braselton.  The others are Dallas Thompson, Donald Retemiah, and Zach Lauersdorf.

Under Trey Morrison’s supervision, these residents have found creative ways to connect with the hospital staff and patients.

At the Braselton campus, they have worked with Celebration Church on more than one occasion, a church pastored by Rev. Mike Day, which is less than a mile from the Braselton Campus.   The church has provided baskets of protein bars for the chaplains to pass out to the staff.  The church has assisted in stocking a closet of clothes to use when there are indigent patients in need of clothing.  Members have also knitted blankets for hospice patients.  Chaplain Corbett sings the praises of the pastor and the church for their kindness and support.

Because of the kindness of this church and others, chaplains can reach out to the staff in very tangible ways to show them some appreciation for their hard work during the COVID pandemic.

2020 has been an especially stressful year for everyone, especially hospital staff.  Many staff members have contracted COVID, including chaplains.  In addition to these residents, the hospital has a team of eighteen contract chaplains, five interns, five staff chaplains, and the Administrative Manager.  This is the number of chaplains it takes to keep the hospitals at Gainesville and Braselton staffed 24/7.

Not only has COVID taken a physical toll on the staff, but perhaps the greater toll has been the emotional strain the disease has placed on members of the hospital community.  As 2020 rolled out and 2021 was ushered in, I witnessed the creativity of the CPE residents firsthand when Chaplain Corbett invited me to tag along as she completed her rounds on the Braselton campus.

She was pushing a cart with a bowl of water on it through the hospital.  On the cart were a few battery-powered candles, some colored pens, and some small strips of dissolvable paper.  She also had some cards with inspirational phrases and some honey sticks to hand out to participants.  A sign on her cart read, “Releasing 2020.”

Members of the hospital staff that were free enough to pause for two-three minutes were invited to take a piece of the paper and write down what they wanted to leave behind from the year 2020.  They were then asked to toss the paper into the water and watch it dissolve.

Most everyone participated.  Laughter and sighs of relief ensued.  Some stopped and gave the assignment deep thought.  Others needed no time at all.  They quickly wrote down a word or more.  One person said, “I’m writing a book!”

What would you like to see pass away?  What would you like to leave behind from 2020?

Many shared what they wrote.  They wrote things like stress, guilt, COVID, negativity, toxic people, sadness, masks, poor health, fear, and debt.  One nurse even wrote the word “husband.”  She then said for all to hear, “He gave up on me first,” and baptized the piece of paper.

One nurse asked for a blessing.  Helen handed me a vile of oil and I placed a drop on her hands and blessed her as I prayed that she would be released from the guilt that had attached itself to her.

Isn’t that what we all need–to be released, set free, to be absolved of things that bind us and keep us from being whole?  We all need a blessing – from God.

One person, a Catholic, told me the experience reminded him of confession, of the feeling of having your sins forgiven, absolved.

When you think about it – when our sins are forgiven, that is a blessing.  We can leave things behind us that weigh us down, that cripple us and keep us from being whole.

So, as we enter 2021, maybe you can participate virtually in this little exercise of “Releasing 2020.”

What are you clinging to that you need to release? What do you need to allow God to absolve, to set you free?

Letting go of our issues is not as easy as putting words in a bowl and watching them dissolve before our eyes, but it is a start to name them and remember that God is in our midst.  God is powerful, mysterious, and is working on our behalf to speak a new reality into existence, but God wants us to be a part of the solution.

So, why are you waiting?  Get started.

Throw those things you want to be left behind into that virtual bowl.  Take the first step.  Moving away from anything begins with the acknowledgment that it is there.

May the God of light show you the way through the darkness.  May the God of peace guide you through anxious filled days.  May the God of comfort give you hope through times of grief and sorrow.  May the God of grace remind you of your worth and that you are loved. May the God of blessings remind you to love, give, and bless others as you enter into this New Year.