Helping at hospice: Dr. Michael A. Coleman helps lead patients to a deeper relationship with Christ

Sunday, October 3, 2010
Dr. Michael Coleman is a chaplain with Legacy Hospice in Sikeston. (Fred Lynch)

Dr. Michael A. Coleman, the chaplain of Legacy Hospice in Sikeston, Mo., is used to being called several names due to his 22-plus years in that ministry. His congregations used to call him Pastor Mike. In his classroom at Southeast Missouri State University, his students refer to him as Dr. Coleman, and his hospice patients usually refer to him as Brother Mike. But if Coleman can have his life speak for himself the one name that he would love to have attached to him is servant. Throughout the last five years he has served as chaplain for hospice, he said, he has helped lead patients to a deeper relationship with Christ before they go to be with him. Coleman said his passion has always been in outreach ministries.

How long have you been involved with a church/chaplaincy?

I have served United Methodist congregations as pastor for 25 years, before retiring in 2005. I have been an active full-time chaplain for the last five years.

How long have you been a member of your faith?

I have been a Christian since the age of 5. I teach world religions, and I understand that in order to understand other religions I must "stand under" my own. Regardless of the inconsistencies that I may find within my own faith, it is in the embracing and struggling that I have come to understand that in order to support the good that my faith provides me I must embrace my own faith. Then I can say, along with Mahatma Gandhi, "I am a Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu."

What drew you to serve this organization in a leadership role?

At a young age I felt called to be a missionary. As I got older I realized that my calling was to be fulfilled as a home-missionary to churches and communities throughout Missouri as an ordained pastor. Upon retirement I pursued chaplaincy as an extension of that outreach ministry in missions. As a teacher at heart I have had multiple outreach opportunities to do community education in a variety of settings. I have taught at nursing schools, churches, civic organizations, etc.

What education/background/studies did you go through to become a pastor?

I earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree in education from the University of Missouri at Columbia. I then pursued and earned a master of divinity degree from Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo. I continued my studies, earning both a doctor of ministry and a doctor of theology degree from Andersonville Theological Seminary.

How many years have you served as a pastor?

I began my ministry here in Cape Girardeau at Centenary United Methodist Church in 1982. In 1984, while in seminary, I served as a student pastor and upon graduation served as a pastor for a total of 25 years.

When did you become the chaplain at hospice?

Hospice, as a concept, is greatly misunderstood by most, including pastors. The definition of hospice eligibility is that a patient has a terminal illness that continues to progress at its present rate, which causes that patient's physician to be unable to guarantee that the patient would be alive. I became a hospice chaplain because I feel that many of these decisions are beyond the predictability of mortal man. I have been a chaplain for the last five-and-a-half years and continue to work in the capacity of hospice chaplain for Legacy Hospice Inc. out of our Sikeston-area office. We serve five counties, including Cape Girardeau and Bollinger counties. We have four medical directors: Dr. Said and Dr. Uthoff [at Sikeston], Dr. Jalal [at Dexter] and Dr. Asher [at Jackson].

Where are you from and when/why did you move to Cape Girardeau/Jackson area?

I am originally from Kansas City, Mo., and I have served United Methodist churches, in the capacity of pastor, throughout the state of Missouri. After retiring from full-time ministry, I obtained a job as a chaplain and we were able to move to Cape Girardeau, where our daughter was a student at Southeast Missouri State University. Although our daughter has moved on to graduate school, we have chosen to remain in this community.

Were you involved with your organization before becoming the pastor?

I was active in the church in various capacities as a layperson. I taught Sunday school and worked with the teens.

What do you think makes this organization special?

Hospice is the only medical organization that requires that a full-time chaplain be a part of the team approach to caring for patients. Although a patient has the right to refuse visits from the hospice chaplain, the offer of the total team concept must be made available to each and every patient and their family. The team consists of a medical director, nurse, nurse's aid, social worker, bereavement coordinator, volunteer coordinator and a chaplain. Another aspect of hospice that makes it special in caring for the terminally ill is that we do not attempt to prolong life, nor to shorten it. I like to tell our patients and their families, from the words of the psalmist, that we walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death providing comfort for the journey (Psalm 23).

What's your favorite verse and why?

Proverbs 3:5-6. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths." For me this is a four-point sermon for my own spiritual development: 1. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart;" do not be half-hearted in you trusting of the Lord. 2. "and lean not unto your own understanding." Our own understanding can be misleading. 3. "In all your ways acknowledge him," not just some of your ways. 4. "and he shall direct your paths." God will go before us as a guide leading and directing our steps.

What programs have you done with your organization that you are/were proud of and why?

As part of our service to our various facilities I have made myself available to do Bible studies/worship services for nursing home residents. Currently I am doing services in four of our facilities twice a month. These range from a few residents to full-blown church services with 20 to 30 residents regularly attending. These residents interact with the Bible studies and share their opinions on the message being presented. This is very cool. We sing traditional hymns and gospel music and the residents react to this as a sort of music therapy. I thoroughly enjoy being a part of their spiritual journey.

What events or occasions does your organization have coming up?

Our community educator is involved within our communities doing blood pressure screens and blood sugar clinics. She does education for our physicians and nursing home staffs regularly. This November, national hospice month, we will be celebrating with our facilities by helping to make them more aware of the benefits of hospice for our patients and their residents.

What's your favorite day of the week and why?

My favorite day of the week is Sunday. This is because we have an opportunity on this day to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. Easter Sunday follows Good Friday and for all our Good Fridays we can look forward to an Easter Sunday. It is also a good day for football.

What's your favorite part of being a pastor/chaplain?

I enjoy leading a patient to a deeper relationship with Christ before they go to be with him. I also enjoy singing with my patients, because as someone once said, "he who sings prays twice." In all the years that I served as a pastor I found that when doing nursing home services the patients almost always responded to singing hymns, even if nothing else could get through to them.

What hobbies do you have?

I like to paint, and I love to write. I have painted a couple of pictures that my wife will actually hang in our home. I have written four books and have another dozen or so in me waiting for me to have the time to complete them. I love football, and I am appreciative that I have been blessed with a wife who loves watching the game as much as I do.

What else do you do besides serving as a chaplain?

I have taught for the last three years as an adjunct faculty member at Southeast Missouri State University in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy & Religion. I currently serve as a participant in five ministerial alliances. I have recently completed the third (and final( degree for membership in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (my first lodge ever), through the chapter in Marble Hill. I am continually being honored to fill a variety of denominational pulpits as pastors need to be gone from their congregations.

Do you have a prayer, psalm or verse you would like to give our readers for the day?

Proverbs 17:22 says that "a merry heart does good like a medicine." This verse contains such a blessing because medical science says that when we laugh heartily our brain secretes serotonin (the happy-juice) that actually makes us feel better. I instruct my patients that we all need to laugh more and feel a whole lot better, no matter what our circumstance happens to be.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: