For the bleaknesses in hospital work, an Oregon pastor leaves sermons and hymnals behind

For the bleaknesses in hospital work, an Oregon pastor leaves sermons and hymnals behind ...

Thomas Vice, a deep faith man, pursued his job as a pastor in the religious world. However, he has no longer preaches a Sunday sermon from the pulpit or crafts an Easter service message. He has traded in the church, with its traditions and structures, for the spooky reality of a hospital, where things change hourly and patients confront hardship.

There is the real world and then the hospital world, said Vice, the head of Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center in Gresham. It will never take place outside of the hospital, said the conversation I have and the events I deal with.

Senior pastors of metropolitan area churches have told him they can't understand why he left the church to work in a hospital. He has a simple answer: "I've done everything I want to do in a church. I loved it all. However, this is where I belong."

Vice, 46, who was married with four children, joined Portland's New Song Community Church as a parishioner when he was 15 years old. He later became a part-time youth pastor there and decided to pursue pastoral work as a career. He then became pastor at churches before discovering a new spiritual path while watching a man die.

His wife's grandfather was in hospice. Vice met him for six weeks and was present when the end came. Vice said the experience made him realize he wanted to be with people during life's amazing transitions. There was no better job than to be a hospital chaplain.

Vice worked with Oregon Health & Science University for two years while continuing to work as a church pastor. After being accepted into the church, he continued to do his traditional church work.

During training and feedback, patients in the program learn about faith in doctrine or beliefs, but it can be determined by their faith. Jill Rowland, leader of the program, and a clinical chaplain with Legacy for eight years. Rowland, a certified pastoral educator, has also become a board certified chaplain.

So, some peoples faith may be about being a Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu, she said. Some other peoples faith may be about the natural world or philosophy, because that is to which they give their heart.

Vice finished the program when hired by Portland's Legacy Health. He completed a year internship as a chaplain at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center Northeast before moving to Mount Hood Medical Center, where he has 150 beds and a staff of five. He visits around 350 patients a month.

I am grounded in my Christian faith, said a senior counsel. That confirms my view. I deal with patients who have similar faith beliefs or no faith beliefs. Some people believe this non-religiousness in nature, art, or music.

Vice is also assisting doctors and nurses in addition to working with patients.

I met with a nurse who tearfully described the circumstances surrounding the death of a patient, he said. The patient was born at the same age as the nurse's child. It was overwhelming for the nurse to witness the death and the child crying as they imagined of their own child and the terrible loss of losing their parent at an early age.

Vice President talks with teams of nurses in small groups where they share their experiences of working during the pandemic. He said many have described the last two years of dealing with COVID as traumatic.

In faith matters, the vice believes the hospital is at a zero tolerance level.

We all may not be religious, but we are all profoundly spiritual, Vice President says. We all are attempting to get a sense of what's happening in our lives and asking existential questions. Every person in the hospital is on the same footing no matter what faith system they ascribe to or what you do not ascribe to.

The vice does not preach.

He listens.

They tell me things they would never tell their priest or pastor or rabbi, said the narrator. They keep it true. They ask why God would do this to me?

Vice has no simple answer.

"I use sustained emphatic inquiry," said Vice President. "When I walk into a patient's room, I am contemplating their life, their story, and trying to understand who they are. It's not as important as to what's happening to the person, but to understand the meaning the person gives.

In Easter, vice sees a measure of hope in a season in which nature is offering it out, while not planning an Easter sermon. In the hospital, it will be, for many, only another Sunday.

Seasons are a complementary process to our life cycle, Vice president said. We have summer and light and then fall. We love the fall colors, but the colors represent things beginning to die. Then winter hits and everything is cold and dead.

What spring offers is resurrecting.

It is Easter and Ramadan and Passover, he said. In all faiths, spring is seen as a celebration that death is not the end. Whether life is the buds coming up through the soil, or skies that are clearing, we recognize that death is not the end. It is simply a part of how we enter life.

Vice travels between two worlds, one deeply religious, and the other secular during the Easter weekend. He plans to go to the on Good Friday to walk the Stations of the Cross, and then attend an evening service. He will then attend a Sunday morning Easter service at And then he will temporarily leave the world behind to have lunch with his family and hunt for Easter eggs.

During the pandemic, the hospital was closed to outsiders. Vice said he sat beside the patients, holding the hands of many who died, because their loved ones couldn't be with them.

"I must be able to hold with them, in faith and hope," he said. "I am permitted to be present with someone's suffering. My faith has not been shaken. It continues to expand."

Patients are not looking for answers, according to the vice.

They are verbalizing what they are feeling, he said. They found someone who has the time to sit with them. One patient recently admitted that his anxiety was burying his hope. That is, in theory, an incredible way of diagnosing yourself. It's so true. For most individuals, life is about avoiding pain and suffering. In a hospital, a medical situation quickly becomes a spiritual situation.

Vice learns about the patient in the bed in those moments.

"We talk," said the man. "Where have they discovered hope in the past?" "What has gotten them through events in the past?" "Where has the divine and the mystery come in the present?"

When he enters a patient's room, the vice declares that he does carry out a religious mission.

I have a commitment to the patient, he said. To meet them where they are at in their lives, I am able to assist them.

Tom Hallman Jr.; 503-221-8224; @thallmanjr

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