Rowan Regional's new chapel is a place to talk to God

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 23, 2006

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

The Rev. James Cook recalled being paged to Rowan Regional Medical Center’s new patient tower during its construction. Workers told him a woman had come to them crying, looking for the chapel.

Cook, the hospital’s chaplain, found the woman just inside the new building, in a corner of the unfinished chapel. Still crying, she told Cook that she was struggling with a decision to take her husband off life support.

The fact that the chapel was still under construction didn’t matter. The woman just needed time, and a quiet place to pray, she told Cook.

“She said, ‘I just needed a space to talk to God,’ ” the chaplain remembered.

Speakers at the Wednesday dedication of Rowan Regional’s new chapel said they hope it provides just that: a place for reflection, a place of respite, a place to talk with God.

The chapel will host services and weddings, Cook said. But perhaps most importantly, it will be a sanctuary.

“It is a holy place for us to come for healing and comfort,” Cook said.

Part of Rowan Regional’s $55 million renovation and expansion, which includes the new patient tower and Emergency Department, the chapel unveiled this week replaces an older, smaller one.

Accented with stained glass windows, a fountain trickling softly in an alcove, the chapel includes an organ and has chairs instead of benches for seating to make it easier, Cook said, for the disabled and wheelchair-bound to move around.

And the new chapel sits at the heart of the hospital campus, occupying a space administrators had once considered for an operating room as part of the expansion and renovation.

“The spiritual needs of our community are just as important as our health needs, and we needed to address all those at the same time,” Rowan Regional Chief Executive Officer Chuck Elliott Jr. said.

James Freeman, executive director of the hospital’s parent company, Rowan Health Services, said he hopes patients and their families find comfort in the chapel in trying times and that doctors, nurses and other hospital employees find strength to help them do their jobs.

“The chapel, to most of us, is as important as medical equipment and supplies,” he said. “Without the presence of God … then none of it is really worth anything.”

The hospital built the chapel with $500,000 raised by the Rowan Regional Medical Center Auxiliary and furnished it with a donation from the Fisher family, who own real estate and development businesses.

Auxiliary President Deborah Carter said the organization formed 70 years ago to do landscaping and raise money for the hospital and its members still “just want to do what we can to make this medical center a comfortable place” for those who pass through its doors.

Freeman noted that the auxiliary has always helped with the chapel and Carter added that it means so much to the group “we were just honored that this could be an opportunity we could be part of.”

Luke Fisher, whose family donated the furnishings, spoke of when his mother, Sonia, was hospitalized with leukemia in Winston-Salem. The highlight of her day, he said, was going to the chapel with her family for prayer and reflection.

“I know that our mother is smiling from above to know that this space will bring the same sense of peace” to others, he said.

Wednesday’s dedication ceremony filled the sanctuary nearly to overflowing. It included prayer and scripture reading by the Rev. Nilous Avery, pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and prayer and comments by Imam Hassan Mohamed, leader of the local Muslim community.

Standing behind the pulpit, Mohamed held up prayer beads and said that Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths around the world use them. He used them to signify that God “doesn’t like divisions … God loves bridges, unity.”

He prayed that God would “open the door of this chapel and everywhere … to every soul, every spirit, every tongue, every faith. Let it be a house of worship for all.”

Cook, the hospital chaplain, said that is his prayer, too. A cross hangs on the chapel wall. He plans to add a Star of David for the Jewish community and Mohamed will provide a prayer rug and beads for Muslims, he said.

“I want to make sure that anyone who comes here is comfortable,” he said. “… We hope patients will be not only cured, but healed.”

Overall, the hospital has raised $20 million of its $25 million goal for renovation and expansion. The rest will come through the sale of bonds.

Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or