Hospital Chaplains and Prayer

Ewe Chapel Altar 2

The simple altar of the Ewe Memorial Chapel at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. The small wicker basket on the pedestal next to the altar contains prayer request cards for patients to fill out. The morning meditation group distributes the cards and fulfills the prayer requests while sitting in the intimate semicircle of chairs.

A small, bright green paper sign by the door of the Ewe Memorial Chapel at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis advertised morning meditation services held in the chapel at 8:30 every weekday morning. Though the sign states that all are welcome, a small number of hospital chaplains are often the only ones in attendance. Additionally, Catholic communion ministers provide communion to Catholic patients at Abbott Northwestern on a regular basis.1

I attended the meditation service on a Tuesday in 2013 with three chaplains. They sat in the front row of chairs, forming an intimate semicircle around a simple altar made of yellow wood. While the intern in charge of leading the morning's meditation service selected a candle from a small locked room inside of the chapel, the conversation between the other two quickly turned to their patients. They talked openly about one of their patients who had passed away the evening before, and how grateful they were that the patient's family was there with her before her death.

The chapel normally receives 60 to 70 little green prayer request cards each month. Reading through all the prayer requests each morning stems from fundamental respect of the needs of patients and their families.

  1. "Spiritual Care," Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Allina Health, last accessed August 17, 2017, https://www.allinahealth.org/abbott-northwestern-hospital/patient-and-visitor-information/spiritual-care.

Ewe Chapel Prayer Requests

Blank prayer request cards in the Ewe Memorial Chapel. Patients request prayers for a diverse array of problems, ranging from addiction and medical conditions to grief. Some ask for divine guidance while others ask simply for the thoughts and good wishes of those reading their card.

The meditation service began a few minutes after 8:30. The intern leading the day's meditation service lit a small cream candle on top of the plain yellow altar, and played soft music with lyrics sung in Hebrew, and then again in English, from her iPad. After a few minutes of music, one of the staff chaplains reached over and picked up a hefty brown wicker basket from a wooden pedestal next to the altar. He quietly pulled a handful of small green papers out, then passed the basket along. The small green slips of paper were distributed until everyone held about 20 pieces in their hands. Reverend Ken Burg, one of the staff chaplains at Abbott Northwestern and a part of the Advanced Heart Failure Team, quickly explained that these slips of paper were the hospital's prayer request cards and that every morning at the meditation service all of the attendees, chaplain or not, would read through the request cards and offer individual silent thoughts.

After the service ended, the chaplains returned to their units while Rev. Burg stayed and elaborated on the prayer requests. The chapel normally receives 60 to 70 little green prayer request cards each month. Reading through all the prayer requests each morning stems from fundamental respect of the needs of patients and their families. In Rev. Burg's opinion, if people take the time to come to the chapel and submit a prayer request, then it is important to the chaplains that their requests and needs are honored.

From my small handful of 15 prayer requests for that morning's service, individuals asked for a diverse range of prayers, including healing after the death of a loved one, freedom from alcoholism, a miracle cure for advanced-stage cancer, and employment. Some requests were explicitly religious and referenced Jesus and God, while others asked for thoughts, healing, and comfort.