No doubt about it – it’s highly contagious … and it’s affected every nook and cranny of the hospital! Yes, holiday cheer abounds at Northern Hospital of Surry County – from festive Christmas decorations to homemade cookie platters to warm holiday wishes being extended to one another among hospital staff, patients, and visitors.
“We do our best to set the stage for the holiday season,” says volunteer Chaplain John Lankford, who explains that Christmas, in particular, is an especially challenging time for many patients and their families. “There’s no good time to be hospitalized,” he says, emphatically, “but Christmas is usually the most challenging time of year.”
That’s also why Lankford spends a few more hours than usual walking the halls of the hospital and dutifully visiting patients’ rooms, with his well-worn Bible in hand. His mission is simple and straightforward: to help bring peace, joy, comfort, and hope to patients and their families while they’re dealing with an illness that requires hospitalization.
On Faith & Healing
As a religious leader, Lankford believes strongly that faith enhances the healing process. Indeed, he’s in good company when it comes to that conclusion – as the results of many scientific studies have proven a correlation between faith and healing. “There’s so much out there now to support a direct link between one’s spiritual beliefs and physical healing,” he says.
“To help patients, my biggest tool is prayer,” says the 66-year-old chaplain. “I’m not a doctor, so I can’t help them medically. I’m just a plain ol’ preacher boy – so my gift is to lead patients in prayer and pray for them myself.”
Of course, he’s also a realist – and acknowledges that some patients prefer to not accept his assistance. “When I go into a patient’s room, I introduce myself as the chaplain, and offer to speak with them and pray with them,” he says. “It shocked me so bad the first time I got turned away from prayer,” he recalls, “but I respect everyone’s beliefs, and I let them know that they can call me anytime if they change their hearts and minds.”
“And I still pray for them,” he adds, with a wink.
Called to a Hospital Ministry
Lankford, who grew up on a farm in Mount Airy, says he was called to the Baptist clergy later-in-life. Perhaps as a result of that timing, he developed an affinity for ministering, on a part-time basis, to older individuals in retirement homes, nursing homes, and assisted-living facilities. Then, following his own professional retirement from positions in the textile and medical-supplies industries, he expected to “sit back, relax, and tend to my vegetable garden.”
After only a few months, that idea changed abruptly when his wife became ill and she found herself being treated at Northern Hospital. “While she was recovering from a procedure, I found myself watching and listening to the hospital volunteers – all of whom seemed to be selflessly giving of themselves to help others,” recalled Lankford. Propelled by a desire to offer his ministry services to patients, he joined the hospital’s robust Volunteer Program and, shortly thereafter, was appointed Volunteer Chaplain.
“This special ministry gives me a purpose in life,” he says, “and I feel I’m probably the most blessed of anybody.” In addition to connecting with patients and their families on a spiritual basis, Lankford also relates to some of the physical and emotional sensations experienced by patients. “Having suffered a heart attack a few years ago, I have a great deal of empathy for the kind of pain, fear, and anxieties that some patients may be feeling,” he says.
At Christmas … and All Year Long
Lankford typically performs his hospital “rounds” every weekday morning, and remains “on call” all other times, as needed. When he’s not available, several other local religious leaders have made themselves available to provide counseling and comfort. He takes seriously his role to bring solace to suffering … especially during Christmas. “I am so thankful that God has chosen me to be of comfort to patients and their families in time of need; and that He keeps my heart uplifted so that I may help uplift the hearts of others,” he says.
And, finally, when all the holiday decorations have been re-boxed and the sweet smell of freshly-baked goodies has dissipated, Chaplain Lankford will still be found — calmly walking the halls and patient-care floors in search of those who may benefit from his inspired intervention.