In Their Words

In Their Words

Three hospital chaplains share their thoughts on gun violence

Hospital chaplains play a pivotal role in providing care, comfort, and consolation to people going through a range of medical issues. Regardless of their own theology, chaplains support people from all denominations through difficult times. These challenges include a loved one’s passing, a devastating diagnosis, and any issues for which the hospital staff needs support. 

But more and more, chaplains fird themselves among the key responders to one of the most horrific, upending forms of human trauma: gun violence. Here’s a look at how three Chicago-based chaplains face gun violence, as they carry out their mission and serve their communities. They tell their stories in their words, as told to writer Dan Dean.

Trina Price, MDiv Trina Price, MDiv

University of Chicago Medicine

When I encounter a victim of gun violence or their family, sometimes I have to explain what a chaplain does. Or I don’t always tell them I’m a chaplain because they may have stigmas about the ministry, God, condemnation, or even Christianity. In either case, I just want to be another layer of care and support. Care and support -— who doesn’t want that? 

I’m with them as a non-anxious, supportive, listening presence. Victims of gun violence experience some of the worst trauma you can imagine. In some cases, it’s not just a matter that they’ve been shot; it’s that it keeps happening. You’d be surprised at how often people thank me for just listening. They’ll say this is the first time in their lives they felt like they’ve been heard. That’s powerful. 

I also connect them with resources to help with violence recovery. Chaplains are unique because when we provide care, we’re not asking anything from them in return. 

It only takes one bullet to kill someone, but if they’re still here, we often talk about what’s next. My goal is to give them hope and to find their strength. Studies have shown that people with a greater sense of purpose, who tap into their inner strength, have greater success rates of healing and recovery. I’ll ask them, “What’s motivating you to get up in the morning? Is it your family? Your kids? Fur babies?”

Sometimes all it takes is the seed of a different thought to change their lives. My hope is that if I can touch them, then maybe the trajectory of their family’s legacy can change. 

Michael Hayes, MDiv Michael Hayes, MDiv

Loyola University Medical Center

Gun violence is a healthcare epidemic. No matter where you live, we’re all affected by it. There are no safe, impenetrable communities. It’s a contagion; it’s a disease that’s uniquely American. 

If I don’t wash my hands and go out in public, I’m spreading something. By the same token, if we’re armed to the teeth, we’re spreading something, too. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but we’re increasing the likelihood that somebody is going to be affected by a firearm.

As a society, we’re pressing the snooze button on this issue. When a mass shooting captures our attention for that short amount of time, our response is formulaic: We’re scared, we’re sorry, and then we turn the spotlight on what was wrong with the shooter. We don’t get to the spot of asking, ‘What can I do as an individual to curb gun violence?’

That’s the question we ask ourselves every day at Loyola Stands Against Gun Violence. Our doctors, nurses, students, our criminologist, researchers, and I show up performing our respective jobs and then take it another step. Maybe it’s education in the community about the safe storage of guns to prevent the violence from happening. Or training on how to use a bolt of cloth to stop the bleeding until the medics arrive. 

When victims or their families come into the hospital, I lead with compassion and empathy because they’re in a situation no human being would want to endure. Death normally presents itself as an event on the horizon. For victims who don’t survive gun violence, the grief is so raw: Yesterday, these individuals were living their lives; today, they’re not. 

I didn’t choose to work on gun violence; God chose me. It’s my mission to uphold a person’s dignity and worth. We owe that to ourselves and to our communities.

Sharyon Cosey, MDiv Sharyon Cosey, MDiv

Mount Sinai Hospital

If two people come into the hospital, and one of those people is the shooter, it’s not my place to judge them. There’s a reason why they’re lashing out, a reason why they’re shooting people. That’s not to excuse their behavior: They will be accountable to both the law and God.

Both sides need help — the shooter and the victim. When the community stops villainizing people who are perpetrating the shooting, we can pause and listen to their cries for help. If we don’t take that pause, the next person who gets shot could be your son or daughter. What can we do to help the situation?

The capacity for compassion and helping each other is what makes us human. If we lose that, who are we? What are we? Gun violence may not be everyone’s lived experience, but something else can affect a community — we are all connected. 

Gun violence is one of the most devastating circumstances where people lose control. My role as chaplain is to walk with victims and their families until they’ve regained some semblance of it back.

Why do people give blood or donate organs? It’s because they’re thinking of someone other than themselves. Gun violence is no different. It all comes down to compassion, which is what God challenges us to offer.

Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 print issue.