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Updated 11:00 AM March 22, 2004



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Spotlight: Chaplain comforts patients

On the secluded eighth floor of C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, high above the Medical Campus, Wayne Charlton quietly prepares for the day in his office. What each day holds depends on a roster of hospital patients he receives every morning.

Charlton, a chaplain in the U-M Health System's Pastoral Care Department, soon will hit the ground running, literally, as he visits an average of 20 patients a day to counsel and minister their spiritual and sacramental needs. His areas of responsibility include all of Mott and the main hospital's Trauma Burn Unit.
(Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

"I don't know how many times I have walked into a patient's room and they look at me like, 'What do you know that I don't know?'" says Charlton, who mostly serves the hospitals' Roman Catholic patients. Additional chaplains serve people of other faiths.

"The perception is that because the chaplain is there, there must be something going on and that the doctors want them there because there is some bad news."

Charlton, one of five chaplains in the pastoral care department, has been on the job for 13 years. Also serving as a deacon at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ypsilanti, he says many visits are routine, such as stopping in to let families know help is available.

"Sometimes people are looking for answers where scientifically there are no answers," Charlton says. "I see my primary responsibility as a chaplain to remind people that God has not forgotten about them. The bottom line is we need to know that we are not alone."

Charlton says there are days when chaplains find themselves in the middle of three or four crisis situations. For Charlton, many of them come in Mott, where parents often seek guidance and answers for their sick children. But, Charlton says, his ministry is not just about helping the sick and dying.

"The reason why any chaplain is able to do their job is because they have seen the miracles and the good things that come," he says. "We see people beat all of the odds and prove that the numbers don't mean anything."

Charlton was ordained a deacon in 1990. He says he became interested in hospital ministry after both of his parents passed away during a six-month period in which both endured long hospital stays.

To deal with the stress of the position, Charlton spends time with his family. His wife, Linda, works in Medical Center Information Technology operations. Their daughter, Carol, is a sophomore at Huron High School. He spends free time working with computers and enjoying his water garden.

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