Hospital chaplains in Rome

By: Shannon Bostic

Chaplains have been around for centuries, and in the small southern town of Rome, Georgia, hospital chaplains are still in use and relevant to the community.

The Reverend Jack Foley of Floyd Medical center said that hospitals are struggling to survive nowadays, and because of that, many institutions do away with the chaplain department. However, he said hospital chaplains are still very much needed.

“It goes well beyond just going and praying with people,” Foley said. “Literally anybody can go and pray with somebody. But we [hospital chaplains] have specialized training to get at larger issues and to minister not only to patients but to family and staff throughout the hospital. It’s a very vital part of the organization. I think they’re still relevant.”

The Rev. Chris Barbieri, another hospital chaplain at Floyd Medical Center, said that hospital chaplains are not always understood.

“I don’t know that they [hospital chaplains] are fully understood or appreciated,” Rev. Barbieri said. “I think when people hear the word ‘chaplain’, they think ‘Someone’s going to try to preach to me or try to save me’, but that’s not our role as a chaplain. We are empathetic listeners who have a mix of clinical training and pastoral training.”

Hospital chaplains do not just deal with patients strictly of the Christian faith. They encounter with patients of all different kinds of faiths and spiritualities.

“I have my own tradition, but I don’t walk into a room thinking, ‘My tradition is right and your tradition is wrong,’” Barbieri said. “I am here to listen to [patients] and meet them where they are emotionally, spiritually and physically.”

Although hospital chaplains are trained listeners, their job entails other tasks, which may change on a daily basis.

Chaplains and their team must tend to patients with serious or life threatening conditions, called palliative care patients. They discuss the patient’s goals in terms of treatment and moving forward, as well as the patient’s spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

Foley said that chaplains also meet with patients filling out an advanced directive, or a living will. They discuss with patients who would be the decision-maker if the patient is no longer able to make their own decisions, as well as what kind of life-sustaining measures they would want if their illness becomes deadly.

In addition to dealing with sick patients, hospital chaplains also talk with grieving families and friends of dying patients in the hospitals. Foley said that the daily trauma and deaths are the hardest part about being a chaplain. He said his faith is what gets him through the difficult parts of the job.

“God called me to do the work that I do,” Foley said. “So I think that he gifted me with being able to be present and compassionate toward these people.”

Despite the constant grief and suffering that hospital chaplains encounter on a daily basis, doing what they do can be very rewarding in the end.

“There are those encounters where you know you helped somebody,” Barbieri said. “You know you did something right and provided some comfort.”

Maintaining Jewish identity in Northwest Georgia

By: Saif Sarfani

Although Judaism is the second largest religion behind Christianity in the United States, in a small southern town like Rome, Georgia, it’s a minority.

Shelly Peller, a sixth-generation Roman Jew, works as a physical therapist and said the Jewish community has been active in Rome since the mid-1800s.


Shelly Peller, a sixth-generation Roman Jew, attends Rodeph Sholom Congregation, a synagogue in downtown Rome.

“Jews were frequently the merchants on Broad Street,” Shelly said. “Traditionally, they were supposed to be closed on Saturday. That’s our Sabbath. If they closed on Saturday, that was their major business day and they would not have been able to make it financially.”

Shelly said the merchants often stayed open for their customers while maintaining flexibility with Jewish holidays and customs.

When it comes to faith and work, Shelly believes that providing patients with dignity and respect echoes Judaism’s core teachings.

“It’s amazing because when you become a healthcare provider you are already promising to treat people with dignity and respect regardless of race, color, creed [or] national origin,” Shelly said. “That is a tenant of Judaism as well: we treat each other the way we would want to be treated.”

Dr. Jeff Peller, a rheumatologist at Harbin Clinic, is Shelly’s husband. He often discusses faith with his patients.

“Most of my patients care that I am a person of faith and believe in God,” he said.

“I point out to my patients that we want the best care that we can get. It shouldn’t matter if one person is of one faith or another.”

According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 4.2 million American adults who say they are Jewish by religion, representing 1.8 percent of the U.S. adult population. However, Jewish has different definitions to people. For some, it refers to being raised Jewish or have a Jewish parent, but they identify as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular.

For Anne Lewinson, associate professor of anthropology at Berry College, it was the opposite. She grew up in a non-religious household, but started practicing Judaism in graduate school.

“I did synagogue regularly throughout graduate school,” Lewinson said. “You know kind of learned how prayer is done, and a little bit more about the traditions and so on.”

Every year, Lewinson debates whether she’ll teach classes during Jewish high holidays like Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. During these holidays, normal work is not permitted.

“I think there’s a part of me that feels that it’s not quite fair that the observation of my faith interferes with the education of students who are not of my faith,” Lewinson said. “And actually, this year, I decided to cancel class on that Thursday because my son was going to be the one who was going to blow the shofar [a wind instrument used in Jewish religious ceremonies] in the synagogue as part of the service.”

Lewinson and the Pellers are part of Rome’s reformed Jewish community which is comprised of 30 families. They attend Rodeph Sholom, a synagogue in downtown Rome, that has been active for more than 140 years.

Reformed Jewish congregations embrace diversity through acceptance of interfaith families, female rabbis, optional dietary laws and bringing faith and critical study to sacred texts.

“We are fortunate to have an established synagogue here in town,” Lewinson said. “It’s a very welcoming place; they welcome anybody who is part of the faith in any way shape or form.”

Rabbi Judith Beiner is the community chaplain at Jewish Family & Career Services in Atlanta and serves as a part-time rabbi at Rodeph Sholom for monthly services.

“The Jewish community in Rome is not growing,” Beiner said. “There was a time where there was between 50 to 100 congregants and a full-time rabbi. It’s a small community with a small footprint.”

Beiner said that she faces criticism because of her gender.

“As a woman rabbi, I face a good amount of discrimination,” she said. “In spite of the fact that liberal Judaism embraces women in roles traditionally unavailable, people are slow to change, and many have a hard time seeing women in leadership clergy roles.”

Beiner also finds that anti-Semitism is a growing problem within the Jewish community and that interfaith dialogue is important to remedying it.

Interfaith dialogue is emphasized at Rodeph Sholom with education sessions, social activities, potluck dinners, observance of major and minor holidays and welcoming non-Jewish individuals into the synagogue.

This reflects what is central to Judaism in all denominations: personal conduct and ethical behavior with other people.

“We’re supposed to treat other people ethically and we’re supposed to make the world a better place,” Lewinson said. “And ultimately, the people who will come after us will remember us with affection and remember we helped our society become more just.”

Shalom and Salam

By: Sara Arms

When I was little, I spent my weekends in old wooden pews of Catholic Churches and weekdays at old wooden desks that faced the crucifix hanging in the front of the room above th white board. Until I was 19, my social and educational environment was exclusively Catholic, and while the adult figures in my life were by no means against non-Christian religions, they were not something I was ever exposed to.

In talking to my old classmates post-graduation, we all shared the same anxiety of having been raised and taught in a sheltered environment that, by default, was not able to expose us to the many ways of how other important major religious and cultural groups work.

Now living outside this umbrella environment, learning about the beautiful ways non-Christians live out their spiritual lives has been incredibly healing and educational. Opening up to different subcultures, religions and practices enriches your own

According to Sperling’s Best Places, 63.6 percent of those who live in Rome claim to be religious. 38.8 percent of Romans are Baptist, 5.5 percent are Catholic, 6.7 percent are Methodist and 3.5 percent are Pentecostal. Non-Christian religions, Judaism, rests at .11 percent and those who identify with Islam don’t even register on the charts. These communities, however small, are warm, tight-knit groups of people who enjoy intimate services and have much to offer Rome.

Rodeph Sholom Congregation is a Reform Jewish Church on East 1st St. Before you walk through the large wood double-doors leading into the synagogue, you can hear lively conversation bubbling from inside. Once everyone settles in for Shabbat (the sabbath worship service) the rabbi, a female, begins to read from the Torah which is a large scroll rolled onto an ornate mappah. There are multiple readings from the Torah followed by a sermon.

At Rodeph Sholom Congregation, the readings and the sermon are done on same floor level that the pews are, and this creates an intimate atmosphere because worship happens at eye level rather close to you. Visiting Rabbi, Judith R. Beiner, during her sermon walks up the middle isle and will talk to parishioners, asking them questions, for their thoughts and testimonies. They even discuss memories and experiences they have shared together which shows just how much these people’s personal lives outside the synagogue still interact with one other.

“Rodeph Sholom is an incredibly welcoming place,” said Anthropology professor Dr. Anne Lewinson. “My multi-culti family has been received very warmly, even though we are multi-racial and my husband is Muslim. Individuals may have their disagreements with each other, however we work through things.”

While their services are less regular, they meet weekly even if just to share time together over a meal to talk about faith. Food is a large part their culture and in how they connect with one another and bond. As one convert explained in her conversion testimony during this year’s Yom Kippur service, cooking traditional foods during her conversion helped her commit to the decision of becoming Jewish. Over a cutting board, she and Rabbi Beiner would talk about faith, a tradition that led to her conversion.

The Rome Islamic Center is a small, local community housed in a repurposed commercial property. Like traditional mosques, the Rome Islamic Center is separated by gender. There are separate entrances for men and women, funneling into two different rooms.

Upon walking in, you enter a carpeted room with a white metal shoe rack on the left. As you pass through, you slip your shoes off and put them on the rack. You follow the hallway until you get to where the women worship. It is a simple room with many windows. An oscillating fan purrs in the front corner in the room when you take a seat on the carpet (the custom is to sit on the floor unless it is necessary to sit in a chair). The worship leaders, who are in the men’s section, begin the service which the women can hear through a PA System.

Salat is a peaceful, precise worship. The quiet contemplation shared between the few women that were there was not forced, but a silent, softer connection through meditation and prayer. There are readings from the Qur’an, a sermon then the repetition of prayers concurrent with physical movement (one “unit”). The Muslim community in Rome, while small, welcomes those who are curious about Islam and those who are unfamiliar with the faith.

For Muslims, there are five designated times during the day for prayer, which are called Salat. These prayers happen at dawn, before sunrise, midday, after the sun passes its highest, the late part of the afternoon, just after sunset and between sunset and midnight. They each consist of units of repeated mantras paired with meditative movements. According to worship leader and Berry professor Nadeem Abdul Hamid, for the Rome Islamic community, the majority of these prayers are done at home for convenience with a congregational prayer service traditionally on Friday for the afternoon prayer.

These two minority religions play an important role diversifying a uniformly Christian area—they introduce new ideas and belief systems that, according to the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, help stimulate economic growth, increase aptitude in problem solving and expanding creativity in ways that could potentially promote Rome. Both of these environments were extremely welcoming and I felt warmed by how willing all the people I talked to were about opening up about their faith. Whether reading from the Bible, Torah or Qur’an, we should all work towards knowing our brothers and sisters.

Christian and Islamic organizations in Rome revere the importance of diversity

By: Olivia Mead

Diversity of race and religious text interpretation is valued and sought after by West Rome Baptist church and the Rome Islamic Center; both organizations find this endeavor complex and challenging.

“I would say that we are somewhat racially diverse and our desire is to be more racially diverse,” Executive Pastor of West Rome Baptist Church, Topher Stockton, said. “We are working hard to bring people together regardless of the color of their skin, their upbringing, or their history. While we are not fully racially diverse, I wouldn’t say there’s a church in Rome that is.”

Stockton expressed a desire to invite all kinds of people into the West Rome church community to create not only a racially diverse environment, but one that is also denominationally diverse.

“We believe in scripture and we try to live by scripture,” Stockton said. “Being Baptist is a part of who we are, but it’s not the defining factor of who we are. We have people here who are from all types of denominational backgrounds.”

Although West Rome is open to new church members of any ethnicity, it is unclear what tactics the organization uses to deliberately reach these members.

“We want to help people to come together,” Stockton said. We’re going to spend eternity together. We want to see churches come together as the body of Christ, not just these individual pockets.”

Nadeem Abdul Hamid, a leader within the Rome Islamic Center, offered an alternative perspective on inner-faith diversity, from the eyes of a religious head in a highly diverse organization.

“The community’s pretty mixed, as is common, you’ll find a lot of different cultures that come together,” Hamid said. “There are immigrants from all over the world, and also people who were born and raised in Rome.”

Islam’s origins are, indeed, inherently quite diverse. According to research from Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Islam serves as the primary religion in the Middle East, North Africa, and large parts of Asia. Such a wide variation of roots allows for a more racially-varied faith group.

Hamid recognized the importance of preserving this diverse community.

“My family has had various interactions that really strengthen our faith [through diversity],” Hamid said. “It just opens your eyes to see that the way we are practicing is not the one and only way. There’s a big spectrum in terms of flexibility in how people live, according to Islam.”

Stockton agreed with Hamid’s desire to learn from members of the community who have different backgrounds than him.

“I want to hear what somebody feels, what they believe, and why, and be able to express the same,” Stockton said. “I want to show mutual respect and have open conversation; we want to listen, and we are not religious to the point of saying, ‘it’s our way or the highway.’”

Both West Rome Baptist and the Rome Islamic Center share a goal of involving the entire Rome community in their services.

“Our immediate goals right now within the community itself are just to get people involved in coming to the prayer services, educational activities, and raise the level of awareness,” Hamid said.

Both representative groups in Rome are united in their efforts to include all kinds of people, regardless of heritage.

“I think it’s important to be diverse because the kingdom of God is diverse,” Stockton said. “When we get to heaven, we’re all going to be hanging out together and we’ll all be one family. Why not seek to have that now?”

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