The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 4, 2011

Soul support: Chaplain brings changes to hospital’s spiritual care

Ruth Rice

— As manager of the spiritual care department for Conemaugh Health System, the Rev. Bruce Griffith of Richland Township is in charge of bringing comfort.

He began his new post on June 27.

“It’s going very well,” Griffith said. “There are great people and supervisors to work with.

“One of the great things is that Conemaugh has decided to make spiritual care a part of their service, bringing a holistic view to health care. I’ve heard of other hospitals who have cut back, but Conemaugh is committed.”

Griffith is a chaplain who serves on the oncology and ethics and organ replacement committees, provides chapel services for staff and patients who are mobile, and coordinates a staff of other chaplains and clergy and lay volunteers for his department.

“I also do recruitment and training for visitation and other aspects,” Griffith said. “Volunteers bring new thoughts and new ideas. They are the key. We couldn’t do it without them. I want to equip and empower them. They have a desire to serve, and they want to do it well.”

He stressed that volunteers are needed on weekends and evenings, not just during business hours.

Anyone interested in volunteering may call volunteer services at 534-9000.

A newly instituted 10-minute chapel service for staff allows those who choose to have a break in their busy day.

While Masses have been celebrated by the two priests on staff, the nondenominational services at both hospital campuses are new.

“It gives them a few minutes of renewal,” Griffith said. “I have them Tuesdays at the main campus and Thursdays at the Lee campus.”

Griffith, who grew up in Cramer, Indiana County, returned to the area in June after leaving his position at the headquarters of the General Board of Global Ministries, the international mission agency of the United Methodist Church, in New York City.

For more than two years, Griffith headed a unit involved in the selection and deployment of missionaries.

“It was an intense job,” he said. “I needed a change. My wife and I wanted to seek where God wanted us to be next. We made the decision to come to Johnstown and see what role God had for us.”

A friend heard about the opening at Conemaugh and knew Griffith was looking for a new role.

“The hospital decided to make it a managerial position,” Griffith said. “They were reworking what they wanted to do. The position was not only a part-time chaplain. I will get to work with all the pieces and put them together.”

One of his new responsibilities will be hosting the monthly meeting of Greater Johnstown Clergy Association.

Griffith will coordinate speakers who can work with helpful topics – what the clergy needs to know about the hospital, what can be helpful to them as pastors and what he can do to equip them.

Griffith also is available to comfort and counsel patients’ family members if needed.

“We’re here not just for the patient, but for the family,” he said. “We’re also available if the staff has a need. When I interviewed, I was told I might be asked to come to a unit where there had been multiple traumas or deaths if the staff needed to talk.”

Griffith added that with Conemaugh’s being the largest trauma center for the area, there often are patients and their families from out of the area who need his help.

“Sometimes their families and pastor can’t even get here,” he said.

While Griffith usually works normal business hours Monday through Friday, he also is on call several nights a week and on alternate weekends.

After attending Pitt-Johns-town, Griffith was an elementary teacher at West End Catholic and United before getting the call to go into ministry.

While attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., he had a strong sense of a calling to missions, but was on track to become an ordained pastor of the United Methodist Church.

When he came back to the Western Pennsylvania Conference, he was appointed to be associate pastor at Franklin Street United Methodist Church, 11 miles from where he had grown up.

“It was a great ministry,” Griffith said. “I made friendships that have lasted a lifetime.”

Griffith served there for more than six years before leaving the area in 1995. He realized his dream of becoming a missionary with Global Ministries in Afghanistan, where he served until 2008.

He worked in health, education, rehabilitation and development, teaching the children of others who were working there and establishing English language training centers.

As a team leader, Griffith oversaw visas, finances and evacuations.

He met his wife, Kathy, a nurse-midwife originally from Zimbabwe, in Pakistan, where she was working in a mother-child health training program.

They were married in 1999 and returned to work in Afghanistan until they came to the states in 2008.

Griffith and his wife attend Oakland United Methodist Church.

They both enjoy cooking, photography, watching a good football game and spending time with people at a barbecue.

“This is the fun stuff we

didn’t have overseas,” Griffith said. “We’ve been in a different environment, and now we’re in our home culture. These are things we didn’t get to do.”

He didn’t have a car while overseas and even enjoys the chore of washing, waxing and vacuuming his vehicle.

Griffith has learned how easily he could adapt to living without what most Americans would consider a necessity.

When he didn’t have electricity at all, it was easier than having power for a few days then having it go out and not knowing if, or when, it would return.

“What I’ve learned through my years in ministry is how to resource and equip people to be all they can be, to use their gifts and talents in the best way,” Griffith said. “I’ve had a wonderful life. Kathy and I have experienced things we will never forget and could never imagine. We’ve been greatly blessed to have the opportunities we had.”


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