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The Charlotte Observer, N.C., Tim Funk Column: Blessing the Hands That Heal

June 30, 2007

By Tim Funk, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

Jun. 30–Depending on your religion, Friday, Saturday or Sunday spells sacred.

Just consider what many of us do with our hands on those days: We raise them in praise or press them together in prayer. We use them to hold our holy books, to accept Communion, to offer another a handshake of peace.

But what about the workweek?

That can be hallowed time, too. On the job, in a thousand different ways, we extend helping hands.

At Charlotte’s Presbyterian Hospital, they understand — and honor — this. Once a year, chaplains there carve out time to bless the healing hands of employees. Doctors, nurses, assistants, secretaries, gardeners, janitors — whoever chooses to participate.

Sometimes patients want to be included, too.

Recently, I tagged along, notebook in hand, as the Rev. Hunter Roddey and Connie Matthews, his helper for the day, rolled their “Blessing the Hands cart” from one nursing unit to the next.

Armed with hot water, frankincense and myrrh, their message to these caregivers, Roddey said, was: “You do so much with your hands all day. Let us care for you a little while.”

Then, in the same spirit as figures in the Bible washed each others’ feet, Roddey and Matthews soothed working hands by pouring water over them and anointing them with the aromatic oils.

“We are thankful for the work your hands do,” Roddey told nurse Mitzy Waller, 35, the first in line. Then he held her hands and prayed over them: “God, our creator, thank you for the skills you give us…and may the work of these hands bring hope and healing.”

Roddey is Presbyterian. But, because of the religious diversity of the hospital’s work force, he said he doesn’t invoke Jesus, Muhammad or Moses.

But the blessees are free to bring their own beliefs and traditions to the experience. And many do.

Dr. Jay Duggins, an anesthesiologist who attends Carmel Baptist Church, said he sees his work — and the blessing of his hands — as part of his Christian faith.

“I believe in the Lord and that we are all doing his work here,” said Duggins, 40, who was at Presbyterian to evaluate patients a day after surgery. “This is an outward showing of our faith, and allows (God) to work through us.”

How did the blessing make this Christian — and man of science — feel?

“Clean, purified, free from the illness and the troubles of the world,” he said.

Nurse Megan Peterson, 22, a Baptist from Mount Pleasant, said she believes the blessing helps her do a better job.

“It helps me not make mistakes,” she said.

And Kristen Lash, 21, a nurse who attends Concord First Assembly Church, said she partakes in the blessing partly “to bring hope and healing to my patients” and partly, she adds with a laugh, because the oils “smell good.”

The Rev. Roddey is the son of a doctor. And, for a while growing up, he thought maybe he’d go into medicine, too. But he didn’t like the science.

He felt called, instead, to the ministry. And he loved serving in a hospital. He’s one of three full-time chaplains on Presbyterian Hospital’s Charlotte campus.

The blessing of hands, Roddey, 44, said, “connects me to people…When you hold somebody’s hand and look into their eyes, that can be very meaningful.”

His favorite story: The day a nursing technician, tears in her eyes, called out as the cart started to depart. “Don’t forget about me,” she said.

Her hands were gnarled and missing fingers, but Stephanie Biggers — the parish nurse who came up with the blessing-of-the-hands idea and Roddey’s co-worker that day — held them, blessed them, and said, “What beautiful hands.”

“God was in the midst of that,” Roddey said at the memory.

Some doctors and nurses don’t get in line to have their hands blessed. But no one, Roddey said, has ever complained.

At the cardiac triage unit, where heart patients are cared for, three nurses lined up to have their hands blessed.

Among them: Rayna Jones, 49, of Matthews, who said that, most Sundays, she’s working at the hospital rather than in church.

But she said she saw the sacredness in her work — and welcomed the blessing.

“It all helps,” Jones said. “Nursing is caring and this (blessing) gives us a little assistance from God.”

FAITH & VALUES Tim Funk

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

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