Jackson Retires as Director of Pastoral Care at Swedish Covenant Hospital

Werner and Jackson

CHICAGO, IL (December 21, 2007) - Steven Jackson recalls the time he was the chaplain on duty at Swedish Covenant Hospital and more than 100 people streamed into the emergency room to learn that their friend and family member had suddenly died. "Every time someone would come in, there would be screaming and people throwing themselves on the floor. I remember that I was absolutely drained."

Then there was the time last year when he performed a marriage ceremony in a hospital room because the grateful bride wanted her dying mother to see the wedding, which initially had been planned for months later.

"You never know what a day holds," says Jackson C'65 S'69. "You never know what you are going to be called on to do. You certainly have many sad, difficult experiences, but there are many times of wonderful celebration."

It is little wonder that Jackson, who retired last week as director of pastoral care after ministering at the hospital for 30 years, says his job has been an "emotional roller coaster." Still, he says, "It's been an incredible blessing."

Jackson's time at SCH was unpredictable from the beginning. He started working at the hospital as an orderly while putting himself through North Park Theological Seminary. He was planning on being a pastor. "I never dreamed I would go back there to work."

After graduating from the seminary, Jackson did serve two pastorates in Kansas but felled called to the chaplaincy. "The sense of vocation has been so strong for me," he says.

The hospital became his parish, Jackson says. Although he saw many of the patients and their families only once, he interacted with numerous others frequently over the course of years. "I enjoy the relationships that are formed," he says.

Those relationships were built as Jackson has attended to people's needs. At times that has meant just sitting and listening to someone. He also helped find resources, discusses ethical issues or answer theological questions raised by the patient or family.

The chaplain's role is not to be an evangelist in the traditional sense, Jackson says. "There is a lot of seed planting; there is not a lot of harvesting."

As chaplain, Jackson ministered to people of all different faiths, including patients and families who profess no religious belief. "Chaplains are there to be of ministry to people where they are," he explains. "There is evangelism in the sense that you are with people and they know who you are — that you are a pastor."

Chaplains, as much as any other minister, have to be able to work in a pluralistic environment. "You have to be mindful of the different traditions — of what is helpful to do and what is not," Jackson says. That's a tall order at SCH, which is located in the zip code that the US Census Bureau says is the most ethnically diverse in the country.

Jackson is excited about retirement but looks back at his time at the hospital with gratitude. "There are so many wonderful times of ministry," Jackson says, adding that the best was "the feeling that God has prepared the way for you. It’s like you're supposed to be there."

Ruthanne Werner C'66 S'85 has succeeded Jackson as the new director of pastoral care at the hospital.