Last updated: February 21, 2024

The Chaplain at the Hospital

Ready for something different, Daphne Stephens went back to school at age 54 after a long career in corporate America. She sensed a nudge from God to major in religion. Her concentration was Christian counseling. 

Her second year in college, she had fibroids that became life threatening. One evening, she was bleeding heavily, and she and her husband called an ambulance to get her to the hospital quickly.  

Daphne’s experience at the hospital was a whirlwind. First, she was pressured to get a surgery on the spot. Denied the opportunity to take time to pray or talk to her husband, Daphne declined the operation. When she was finally able to see a specialist, her blood count, which was supposed to be 11, was only four. The nurses and doctors asked her how she was still alive and walking around. Then there was a mixup with her charts, and the staff wanted to start the questions and paperwork all over again. Feeling desperate, Daphne called for a chaplain. 

As Daphne cried and poured out her heart, the chaplain just listened. “There was such a peace in the room like I had never experienced in my life,” Daphne says. “Even my husband said he felt the peace in the room.” After the chaplain prayed for her, Daphne went right to sleep. 

The specialist determined that Daphne needed only to have her fibroids removed and not a major surgery. When Daphne came back the next day for the procedure, something special happened. Her doctors, nurses and surgeons got in a circle around her hospital bed and prayed for her. “That experience solidified for me that there was a calling on my life. I didn’t know what the calling was, where it was going to take me,” says Daphne. 

“I Knew I Was Home”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in religion, Daphne wanted to be done with school. But she sensed a “not yet” from God. One of her pastors suggested Asbury Seminary as a place for Daphne to further her education. So Daphne visited the campus in Orlando. “When I walked into Asbury, I knew I was home,” she says. After touring the campus, she said to her enrollment advisor, “Where do I sign up? I can’t go home and think about it because I’ll talk myself out of it.” 

Afraid to choose a degree with the word “pastoral,” Daphne enrolled in the Marriage and Family Counseling program. She’d had some unpleasant experiences in the church with pastors, and she didn’t want to be a “pastoral” person. “I spoke to God about that, and He said to me, ‘If you say what I tell you to say, you’ll always say the right thing.’” Her fears alleviated, Daphne switched her degree to the M.A. in Pastoral Counseling after her first semester. 

Her last class at Asbury before her 2023 graduation was Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Advent Health Orlando. Daphne describes her CPE as being “thrown right into the river.” One week she was shown around the building; the next week she was expected to be a chaplain. “My very first Saturday, four people passed away on my shift,” she says. In the three months that followed, her experience was plagued with death and despair. “The ‘code blues’ were just as you see them on television. And the chaplain had to be there,” she says. 

Through this difficult summer, Daphne felt the presence of God giving her the power to do what she needed to do – be a chaplain regardless of the situation. “We ministered to the staff; we ministered to the doctors, to the nurses, to the families, to the patients who could hear us, who could understand us. We ministered to people in the elevator. Just everyone, everywhere, for those three months.”  

Through the whole duration of Daphne’s CPE, staff at Advent Health tried to recruit her to be a chaplain.

Daphne told them, “Nope, that’s not what God said. That’s not what the Lord has laid on my heart. There are more individuals outside of this hospital who need care than are inside the hospital. Why do you have to go to the hospital to be cared for spiritually?”

Peace, Joy, and Someone Who Loves You

True to Daphne’s sense that God had something different for her, a job opening came to her inbox two days after her degree from Asbury Seminary was official. The opening was called “Spiritual Caregiver,” and it was for the same organization – Advent Health. 

Daphne was tired physically, mentally and spiritually from nine and a half years of schooling and an intense CPE. She told God how she felt. Yet one week later, the Lord spoke to her, and she immediately got up, went into her office, and applied for the job. 

In less than two weeks, Daphne was interviewed twice and offered the job. 

As a Spiritual Caregiver for Advent Health, Daphne’s ministry does not take place within the walls of the hospital. Rather, it takes place through a call system on her home computer. Daphne is part of a team that makes calls to patients referred by doctors. Doctors at every Advent Health clinic ask their patients not only about their physical health but also wellness questions. “They ask, ‘Do you have peace in your life? Do you have joy in your life? Do you have someone who loves you?’” says Daphne. 

If a patient answers “no” to any of these questions, the doctor’s referral enters the phone system used by the Spiritual Caregivers and automatically calls the patient. “After we find out how they’re doing physically, then we inquire as to how they’re doing emotionally and spiritually,” says Daphne. “And the number of individuals who have no one in their life is astounding. Or the number of individuals who say that they are fine – but because of my training, I know that they’re not fine – is astounding.” 

Church Hurt

The patients are invited to make or receive a call at a later time when they’re ready to talk to someone. Other patients do open up and share, and these phone conversations can range from 1 to 3 hours. “Every day is a different day. Every call is a different call,” says Daphne. “Some days are much more tiring than others. Some days are much more rewarding than others. But all in all, we have to remind ourselves that we are on a mission. We’re doing what God has called us to do. As long as we remember that, we make it through each day.” 

The Spiritual Caregivers talk as long as the patient needs to, about anything they need to talk about, whether it’s something heavy, like past abuse or trauma, or whether something stressful is happening with a pet, or even if it is the weather. Patients who are not spiritual are hesitant to talk about spiritual things. Yet, “most of the time, when you ask them about emotional support, that will lead to a spiritual conversation,” Daphne says. Patients appreciate that their conversations are confidential and that their faces cannot be seen. But for those who want face-to-face help, Advent Health has a list of therapists they recommend.

Daphne particularly loves to offer spiritual care to women who have been hurt in the church. Calling it “church hurt,” Daphne has had opportunities, both inside and outside her role as a Spiritual Caregiver, to minister to women on the outskirts of the church. These women experienced a lot of hurt when they weren’t given the same opportunities or respect as men, and they don’t know how to go back to church. Daphne’s heart is to minister to them when they cross her path. “God directs the phone calls. He knows who needs to talk to who,” says Daphne. 

To Learn About People

In her current role, Daphne is experiencing the importance of emotions. Patients want help dealing with a recent diagnosis, or they say their health is okay but their life is in shambles. She’s had people recount how bad their life has been. One woman said to Daphne, “Are you prepared for what I’m about to tell you?”

Daphne says, “As you start to talk to them, you can almost feel the layers being pulled back. And those are the calls that go on for an hour, hour and a half, two hours.” 

When going into seminary, Daphne at first thought she would learn how to dissect every Bible verse. “But that’s not how it was,” she says. She spoke to the Lord, and He explained to her that “wisdom and knowledge come from spending time with Him.” This made Daphne wonder why she was in Seminary. But she now believes that she was in seminary in order to learn about people.

“I learned about the different religions. I learned how we as people are supposed to interact with each other. I learned how important it was to understand others. I learned how to be respectful of others, their religions, their cultures,” says Daphne. “The whole purpose of being in seminary [was] that when I went out into the world, my eyes would be opened to everyone and everything; I would not be judgmental of the way people looked, the way people talked, the lives they led, because I wasn’t with them in their everyday lives. I learned that my main reason for being is to have a relationship with Christ. And then after that, to have a relationship with people.” 

One of Daphne’s ideas is to someday open an agency where she can employ other minority counseling. “Minority counselors are so few and far between,” she says. Yet as Daphne continues her mission of being a Spiritual Caregiver, she lets God lead her. “I’ve learned not to make a plan, because He laughs,” she says. “Even when I do question Him, I don’t expect an answer right away because it’s not my time; it’s His time.”

Daphne was the 2023 M.A. in Pastoral Counseling recipient of the Fred Van Tatenhove award from Asbury Seminary. School of Counseling students at Asbury Seminary are selected for this award based on outstanding GPAs and demonstration of a counselor identity.

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