ELCA Pastor Kirstin Springmeyer serves the smallest people in the world. She is a chaplain in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Her ministry is not only with the infants, but really with their parents of course. In addition to this, she also has engaged in a ministry to the staff who work with the children.
Today I hung out with Kirstin, met some of her colleagues, some parents, some patients, some doctors and nurses, the Bereavement Coordinator, and her supervisor.
I know Texas Children’s all too well. Both of our children have been patients at one time or another. It is an amazing place. TCH is rated the second best Children’s Hospital in the country for neonatology.
Kirsten guided me into the NICU (or “Nic Unit” as some call it), located on the fourth floor. Tiny babies were lying in tented cribs, most with tubes and respirators. The place softens you immediately. We chatted with a mom whose baby just came out of surgery. As we walk out into the corridor, the walls are lined with beautiful photographs of older children, all of whom were patients here when they were born. Hope: a sign for parents, who may have trouble imagining their tiny newcomer to this world will make it.
Making our way though the hospital, staff pull me aside and tell me how much they appreciate Kirstin. They know her name and she knows theirs. “Parents appreciate having someone come into the room who is not bearing bad news.” Kirsten is not ruffled by trauma. She listens compassionately and provides a spiritual presence. And not just for the parents. The Bereavement Director said to me, “I’ve worked here 30 years. I’ve seen a lot. This is new. Kirsten has really ministered to the staff, who deal with this day in and day out.”
Kirsten works from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. CPE students cover the weekends. She recently started leading a time of prayer every Tuesday at 3:30 in the chapel. The CEO of the hospital came by and praised her work. Here is a picture of her standing by a prayer tree in the chapel.
This week Kirsten has a funeral for a baby that she baptized not long ago. Once a year they hold a service of remembrance for all the parents of children that died the past year. These children receive a blanket. Barbara Cauble, a member of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, makes a bereavement gown for every child that died. She too, lost a child once. This is how she turns grief into ministry.
On Ash Wednesday in two weeks, Kirstin will be putting ashes on foreheads from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. On Christmas Eve she held a worship service for fifty people in the chapel. They took time to have each person come forward, share their prayer requests, and receive prayer with laying on of hands. “It took a while, but it was worth it,” Kirsten said.
Kirsten is one of four chaplains at TCH. She feels called to this unique ministry. Her supervisor describes her as energetic and imaginative. If you’re ever at Texas Children’s Hospital, stop in and say hello.