Carrying on a conversation with Centerpoint Medical Center Chaplain Howard McFarland can be quite a challenge.
When his office door is open, it seems like everyone who walks by wants to stick their head inside for a quick hello.
Then, there’s his cell phone, which he politely turns off. When he turns in on an hour later, he has several missed calls, and within seconds of checking his calls, it begins to ring.
"Welcome to my world," he says. "I wouldn’t want it any other way."
Neither would the staff and patients at Centerpoint.
"We love Chaplain Howard," said Victoria Boswell, the unit secretary of Centerpoint’s Same-Day Surgery Center. "He goes out of his way to help people – and I mean anyone. Patients, members of the staff – if they need help, Chaplain Howard is there for them."
"And he’s there 24/7."
Although he’s wearing his mask, the crinkles around his eyes indicate that McFarland is smiling, because the 24/7 comment is the truth.
"This is a volunteer job, but it does take up a lot of my time, and I truly feel blessed and love every minute I’m here at the hospital" said McFarland, whose life reads like a novel few would believe.
The 58-year-old ordained minister has had four heart attacks, eight strokes, two brain aneurysms, a stroke and has been diagnosed with lung cancer. He said he’s had three doctors tell him he would be dead within six months and that he attended the funeral of each of those doctors.
The chaplain was injured in a car wreck on his way to military deployment in his youth, and it resulted in him never able to serve. He says he was away from God for 10 years as a young man but now serves with a vengeance.
"I believe that prayer can sometimes be as effective as physicians," he said with a wink, "even though I volunteer here at Centerpoint. We have an amazing staff, and it all starts with Bret Kolman, our CEO. He is a special person in my life and the lives of so many people who work here. Has a passion for his job, just like I do."
Kolman praises the work of McFarland, saying, "Our volunteer chaplains are such an integral part of our care team. Our patients and families in the midst of a health crisis receive prayer and ministry. I am so thankful for Howard and the countless and selfless hours he volunteers ministering to other people’s spiritual needs."
Workload in a pandemic
McFarland reaches into a file cabinet and pulls out some records of his service since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
"Over the last three months, I have counseled over 300 patients a month, sometimes going over 400 patients," he says. "Most months I will see between 75 to 100 patients, but like everyone in the world, this is a different time for us all."
"God keeps me going. There are days I get a phone call at 3 a.m. and say, ‘Body, get going,’ and it takes me a minute or two to get out of bed. But once I walk through these doors, I feel like a kid, my body is refreshed, my mind is sharp and I am ready to help those in need."
"And when it’s time to leave, unfortunately, my old body returns and I’m weary. But when I need to serve, I do, in the name of the Lord."
There during a crisis
If you have a week or two to spend with McFarland, you might be able to hear many of his favorite moments as a hospital chaplain.
Like an hour conversation he had with a Buddhist who could not believe a Christian would take the time to comfort her while her father was in the emergency room.
Or that moment when a family told him they did not know where their 58-year-old father, who was on life support, stood spiritually.
"I asked if I could pray for him, and they said that would be fine," McFarland said. "I prayed, God, we do not know where he is at spiritually, but before he leaves this life will you deal with him spiritually?"
After the prayer, there were a few minutes with no heartbeat or pulse.
"The staff believed he was gone – but then, something amazing happened. His pulse and his heart rate came and all his vital signs were normal. And after a few minutes, he passed away."
"I looked at his family and asked, ‘Do you think God was dealing with him while he was still with us here on earth?’ It gave them great comfort."
‘Yes, we do get tired’
When he is not serving at Centerpoint, McFarland is a clinical professional in addiction recovery with doctorates in counseling, chaplaincy, theocentric psychotherapy, theology and divinity.
He is also an administrator and lead bishop of the United Association of Christian Chaplains and Counselors International. He also teaches chaplaincy and counseling at Faith Bible College in Independence and does a Chaplains Service at City Union Mission every other month.
"I’m someone who loves God and loves human beings," he said. "I don’t care what color they are, what religion they are – if they need help, if they need someone to talk to, I want them to know I am there for them, 24/7."
In a fitting tribute to his profession, this was McFarland’s post on his HowardMcFarlandMinistries Facebook site.
"There's a old saying: ‘Just when I thought I knew the answers, they changed the questions.’ As chaplains, we are not immune from the situations/circumstances that we endure in a fallen world."
"Yes, we do get tired, yes we do have emotions, yes we are humans. We do have hope and trust in our anchor Jesus Christ, to lead/guide us through the troubled waters of life.
After the blessings/battles I've faced, I'm trusting today in that Unseen Hand, to lead and guide me, as I take up my cross daily & do what God has called me to do."