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New Chaplain Covenant opens the door to better understanding at VUMC

Posted by on Monday, October 5, 2020 in Fall 2020, Related Content .

For the Rev. Cordell Simpson, MDiv, DDiv, a chaplain at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the emotional dam broke a week after George Floyd was killed on May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Long-suppressed memories welled up until Simpson, a Nashville native and Vietnam veteran, couldn’t contain them anymore. In the presence of his colleagues they burst forth like a flood.

“Being looked at as if you’re dirt. Being followed around a store as if you’re going to steal something. I never had shared these stories,” Simpson said. “It was after George Floyd’s death, so much compilation of racism, seeing so much and hearing so much until I felt led to talk about it,” he said.

LifeFlight chaplain, the Rev. Raye Nell Dyer, MDiv, suggested that Simpson transform his feelings into something healing for those around him. That is how the VUMC Chaplain Covenant Regarding Racial Injustice came to be.

A covenant is a contract, an agreement. It also is a call to action.

“Together may we create a brave space,” the covenant states. “It will be our brave space together, and we will work on it side by side … to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to express themselves in a confidential and secure space.”

It was not easy for the eight full-time chaplains who serve Vanderbilt University Hospital, the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt Behavioral Health, to share painful experiences and thread hard conversations into the text of a covenant. This task of listening and grieving together and supporting one another required the involvement of the entire VUMC community.

“One of our roles as chaplains is to give a prophetic voice, to acknowledge what is going on, to name it and to call it out, whether it’s grief or celebration or tragedy,” Dyer said.

“Our hope is that (other) departments might use or adapt this covenant to begin a dialogue among their teams to ensure all have a place around the table,” said Andrew Peterson, M.Div, MMHC, director of Spiritual and Pastoral Care and Volunteer Services for Vanderbilt University Hospital and Vanderbilt Health.