Sojourn chaplains at SFGH respond to Asiana 214 crash

The prayers of the clergy and laity of the Diocese of California were not the only way in which ministries of the diocese reacted to the crash of Asiana 214 on July 6. Within hours of the crash, the Rev. Angela Guida, Episcopal priest and interim spiritual care coordinator for Sojourn Chaplaincy had gone in to San Francisco General Hospital and made contact with the Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Room nursing staff. At this point things were calm, and the extent of injuries was unknown, but Cantonese-speaking volunteer chaplains were contacted as possible resources.

Karen Tomcala, Sojourn’s executive director, and former warden at St. Aidan’s, San Francisco, joined Guida at the hospital, where they both stayed until 7 p.m. that evening, along with two volunteers and another volunteer on standby. They participated in Command Center briefings, Guida made regular circuits through ICU and the ER; and they were present at the Family Meeting Center in the cafeteria.

The ministry of the chaplain in any context is a ministry of presence. Since 1982 Sojourn, an official ministry of the Diocese of California, has practiced the mission described in its name: “to stay with for a time.” Sojourn’s website says, “We provide a ministry of presence offering compassion and understanding to patients and their loved ones as well as to the staff at SFGH. Chaplains sit without an agenda, listening to the needs of the patients, observing the changing needs of the hospital environment and bringing their unique skills to witness, name and create space for hope, health, and healing.”

On the day after the crash, Executive Director Tomcala said, “We were particularly fortunate to have Grace [who speaks Cantonese] present, as there were two young distraught Chinese passengers that came to the cafeteria and no other translators were available to meet with them. The circumstances were calm and controlled throughout.” Although staff chaplains were on vacation and there was no scheduled hospital coverage by chaplains for the day, the chaplains at Sojourn were able to respond to the need as it arose, with continual coverage through the weekend and regular presence to patients and staff of San Francisco General Hospital.

Tomcala also said, “I look forward to growing a deeper and more robust program over the next several months that helps to ensure we can meet SFGH's unique needs as they arise.  We have good work ahead of us.”

More information about Sojourn Chaplaincy at San Francisco General Hospital is available at their website, http://www.sojournchaplaincy.org/index.html.