As Cullman Regional’s staff chaplain, Delbert Freeman is there for those at their most vulnerable moments
You could say Delbert Freeman’s path to becoming a hospital chaplain began at Cullman Hospital on January 9, 1960 — the day he was born.
“I was born at Cullman Hospital to Millard Freeman and Mary Ellen Freeman of Crane Hill. I weighed a little over three pounds and I was 17 inches long. My parents prayed for my survival and gave me to the Lord. I was brought home five weeks later in an incubator. At that time, only five percent of premature births survived,” said Freeman.
Freeman attended Logan Jr. High School and graduated from West Point High School in 1978.
It was then that he entered the ministry at 17. He began his first pastorate at 20.
Freeman continued this education graduating from Wallace State Community College, Athens State, Wesley Biblical Seminary and Memphis Theological Seminary. After receiving his Master of Divinity, he completed his Doctor of Ministry from Regent University.
Freeman has been married to Sabre Freeman for 37 years and they have three sons and 12 grandchildren.
It was Freeman’s own personal crisis that would lead him into hospital ministry.
“At the age of 14 my father became disabled and was unable to work at the age of 47. He experienced heart disease and a nervous breakdown before his death at 55 years. I learned much about suffering, compassion and faith from my mother and father during those difficult days,” said Freeman. “I would experience times that God did not seem very close to me. At age 16, I suffered serious depression for over a year.”
While working on his Master of Divinity in 1994, a course in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) was a requirement for the seminary degree and church ordination in the United Methodist Church. This involved 400 hours of teaching and personal hospital visitation.
“I was exposed to death, trauma and suffering at the University of Alabama Hospital while serving as a chaplain. I had been a church pastor and evangelist since 1977 and had always loved to minister the gospel through preaching and pastoral ministry. However, I had an awesome desire to minister to people in a greater way through prayer. I prayed for a new ministry that would meet people’s needs of their spirit, soul and body.”
His new path began when he accepted a request to be a volunteer chaplain at Cullman Regional.
The place of his birth was now a new modern facility with much more to offer the community.
It was at Cullman Regional in 2003 that he would receive the answer to his prayers.
“I had applied for a full-time chaplain position. Then, while I was in the emergency room at Cullman Regional suffering with kidney stones, my phone rang and the voice informed me that I was late for my interview for employment,” recalled Freeman.
“I replied that I was in the hospital complex and would be there as soon as possible.”
He was hired later that afternoon as chaplain with Cullman Regional Hospice, formerly Hospice of Cullman County. In 2016, he assumed the responsibilities of Cullman Regional’s full-time chaplain while continuing to serve Cullman Regional Hospice.
Freeman says the hospital chaplain ministry is much like church ministry because both pastors and chaplains deal with hurting people. He says pastors and the proclamation of the gospel are essential, however, “The chaplain’s ministry involves more listening and praying with sick patients than proclamation. Chaplain’s deal with death, terminal illness, and crisis situations with a greater frequency than that of a pastor.”
Freeman credits his wife Sabre with helping him handle the emotional overload that can come with dealing with patients and health care providers in crisis. He calls her his “first prayer partner and confidant.”
“Sabre started her nursing ministry as a Registered Nurse at Cullman Regional in 2004. She is there for me and I am there for her; we help each other,” said Freeman.
“We also have had some awesome prayer meetings over the years with the staff of the hospital. We have a great staff at Cullman Regional that help each other. The hospital staff prays for one another and prays with their patients when asked.
“I would also say that prayer, reading the scripture as well as the fellowship with the local church and other pastors helps me. The fellowship I have with our volunteer chaplains is a great encouragement to me. The volunteer chaplain program is essential to spiritual care at Cullman Regional and has been for over twenty years. We are very blessed to have eight interdenominational volunteer chaplains that are available to assist when needed. We minister to our Hispanic community through our volunteer Hispanic chaplain as well. I have had to rely on these volunteers and am blessed with experienced, credentialed, caring chaplains that truly care for the patients as well as their congregations. These active and retired pastors serve faithfully. More volunteer chaplains are needed and ordained pastors are encouraged to apply.”
Those volunteers and Freeman have been adjusting their ministry to deal with new rules at the hospital due to the coronavirus pandemic
Freeman says they’ve had to change how they interact with patients and families.
“I think that I have become more aware of the needs of patients especially since church interaction and pastoral visitation has been limited in the hospital due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I try to call families when needed and apprise them of my ministry with the patient. Hospital staff try to call the families of patients and give them an update on their condition when needed.
“Throughout this time, I have intentionally reached out to local church pastors and offered to assist them by visiting their church members for them in the hospital. I have also encouraged the pastors to telephone their members and communicate with them.”
Cullman Regional has tried to educate the church community concerning the seriousness of the pandemic and how to best serve our community. As chaplain, Freeman has assisted the volunteer chaplains and patient families on the proper contact precautions and steps to take in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
“Certainly, we are all constantly learning and during this pandemic we have had to lean on God as well as each other a great deal. My father used to say to me, “Son we must help one another.” This pandemic has proven that statement to be true.”
Freeman says his past helps him in his ministry at the hospital. And helping those who are dealing with similar issues is a rewarding experience.
“I was a depressed teenager who found deliverance through the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know what it feels like to face the dark night of the soul. I have witnessed sickness and oppression firsthand. I know the depths of loneliness. To me telling hurting people about how the Lord has helped me through many crisis situations in life and seeing hope come into their eyes is reward enough. My ministry is to those who struggle with sickness, depression, a terminal illness, addiction or those who grieve over the death of a loved one. But the most rewarding part of my job is seeing someone find hope, forgiveness and eternal life through Christ. This is the greatest miracle.”