SAN ANTONIO—Sometimes Laura Mannes wishes she could fix the pain, grief and suffering she encounters each day as a chaplain. Then she reminds herself of her mission.
“I have to realize that I am a human being and not a human doing, and that sometimes sitting on the ash heap being beside someone is the most powerful care one can give,” said Mannes, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-endorsed chaplain at Northeast Baptist Hospital in San Antonio.
Mannes, a graduate of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, fulfills her mission by caring for patients and family members when they face new diagnoses, end-of-life decisions, spiritual and emotional distress, or death. Often, that care involves connecting patients and their families to their faith communities.
Recently, Mannes responded to a call for an emergency room patient who was not responding to treatments. She helped facilitate the family’s discussion as they confronted end-of-life decisions regarding their mother’s care and ultimately decided to follow their mother’s wishes by foregoing life support.
The family shared with Mannes that their mother found joy in singing. So, Mannes led the family in song and prayer at their mother’s bedside. As they sang a benediction hymn, their mother died.
“It was a very holy moment. … You knew and felt God’s presence in that room,” Mannes said. “That room was a sacred place at that moment.”
Mannes believes death is not a taboo subject and no longer fears it like she did as a child.
“Jesus talked about his impending death with his disciples, and his disciples had trouble with it,” Mannes said. “I think that is the way it is today. Many individuals have trouble with it. But I see death as part of life. I do not see it as an end but another beginning to life eternally with God.”
Mannes did not grow up in church, but she started attending as a teenager when a friend invited her. Her background gives her insight into patients or families who do not belong to a church or who come to faith in Christ later in life, she said.
For Mannes, a prayer by Teresa of Avila inspires her to be the presence of Christ to others. One line states, “God of love, help us to remember that Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours.”
“I believe that being present with others and being that reminder of Christ on earth is what my ministry is all about,” Mannes said.
In addition to her work with patients and families, Mannes mentors chaplain residents and interns and confronts ethical challenges as a member of the hospital’s ethics committee. As a participant in interdisciplinary care rounds, Mannes collaborates with a nurse, social worker, physician and dietician to care for patients’ physical, spiritual and emotional needs.
She also ministers to staff and conducts a “Blessing of the Hands” ritual to remind staff members “that their hands are a tool of healing by bringing touch and comfort to the patient, and that what they do is a calling, not just a job,” she said.