Kindling Compassion

Rick C. Pollen never thought about becoming a chaplain until he officiated at the funeral of a special needs woman in her 50s who died in hospice care. The woman, a sister of an aunt of Pollen’s, pointed to heaven as she lay dying.

At that point, the ordained Assemblies of God children’s pastor who attended Northwest University hadn’t thought about a ministry career outside the church walls.

Pollen, 34, grew up in the Assemblies of God, making a salvation decision at the age of 4 and attending church at Life Center in Tacoma, Washington. Before serving as a children’s pastor in Texas and New Jersey, Pollen began clinical pastoral education training in a hospital setting and obtained his master’s from Covenant Bible Seminary in Lakewood, Washington.

His first stint as an endorsed AG U.S. Missions hospital chaplain took place in Burlington, Iowa. While there, he connected with his future wife, Emmy, on a Christian dating website. Emmy worked as a paraeducator in Des Moines at the time.

Since 2018, Pollen has been one of three chaplains on staff at the west campus of Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“I’m involved in a wonderfully diverse range of responsibilities at Bryan,” Pollen says.

Those duties include ministering to patients in such settings as physical therapy, surgery recovery, intensive care unit, trauma unit, the mental health ward, and chapel services.

In addition, Pollen twice weekly leads an outpatient group that discusses spirituality, purpose, acceptance, and grief on a rotating basis. Also two times a week he facilitates a more emotionally fragile inpatient group on how to cope with stress. And weekly he oversees an adolescent gathering on what to do when one is anxious or upset.

Although it’s not leading an in-depth Bible study in church, Pollen adroitly introduces enough spiritual elements to raise the curiosity of patients, especially youth, who may be skeptical of a chaplain’s motives.

“We live in a different world today compared to 50 years ago,” Pollen says. “We need to build bridges to people who are far from God — those who may have been hurt in church or abused by other Christians.”

With COVID-19 restrictions during the past year, Pollen’s supervisor, Dennis W. Smith, says Pollen has served as a liaison between relatives and patients unable to visit face-to-face. Smith, who has worked at Bryan Medical Center for 11 years, says Pollen helps connect families to COVID-19 patients through iPads, as well as assisting relatives at bedside when compassionate end-of-life visitations are needed.

“The chaplain’s role is more enhanced due to COVID,” says the 62-year-old Smith, who is endorsed through the independent Churches of Christ. “The chaplain must fill the gap because of visitation restrictions.”

“It’s heartbreaking to watch people, especially young people, die,” says Pollen, who has received the coronavirus vaccine.

Now, patients not isolated are allowed one clergy and one other visit per day.

“I have to try to be aware of what patients are dealing with,” Pollen says. “A lot of people are stressed out.”

Smith commends Pollen for his obtaining board certification through the Spiritual Care Association. Smith also says Pollen is sensitive toward colleagues who need encouragement.

“He is a real Barnabas,” says Smith, alluding to the missionary companion of the apostle Paul.

Photo: Chaplains Dennis Smith (left) and Rick Pollen are helping patients in Lincoln.

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