Hospice Chaplain Likens Ministry to Handrail

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Faith Hospice 235Vila Vi Daniel No. 1 Rev. Vila “Vi” Daniel understands the reasons why God equipped her to be a hospice chaplain.When it comes to working as a chaplain for Faith Hospice, Rev. Vila "Vi" Daniel thinks of herself as a handrail.

"Some people are very unsteady in this point in their lives and can't even support themselves, so they need someone to hold onto so they can progress," said Daniel, a chaplain for Faith Hospice since January 2012.

"That helped me with what my purpose is: I'm the handrail and I'm just there for that moment for them to find a place to hold onto, and a lot of time that's through faith. Sometimes it's something inside of them, their spirituality, and me being present with them helps steady them for that moment."

Strong ministry focus early in her life

Daniel sensed by age 15 or 16 she had a calling to ministry, but it wasn't until later in her life, she considered a ministry as a hospice chaplain.

"I didn't know exactly what it was when I was a teen, but I knew it was a very strong ministry focus," said Daniel, now 60 years old.

But the possibility of serving in a ministry immediately ran into a snag. The church Daniel and her family were a part of when she was growing up didn't believe in ordaining women, "so I never interpreted that call that way," said Daniel. "I just knew I was being called. I also knew if I had been a male, that I would be following a pastoral path but being a female, I didn't know what to do with it."

Even though the ordination of women wasn't permitted in her denomination, Daniel held onto the conviction that a sincere Christian such as herself cannot be dissuaded.

Always felt His presence

"I knew I'd be working with human beings and connecting them with the divine," she said. "When I was young, before I even understood this, I always felt His presence, so when I did come in contact with the Gospel, I just knew this is Who I've been feeling all this time."

Daniel hovered in ministerial limbo for years. She married, had children and moved to Michigan with her husband, Ken, who worked at various locations in The Mitten State for the Michigan State Police, while Daniel found employment at organizations that included the Kmart Corp. International Headquarters in Troy and from 2004-2007 at Safe Haven Ministries in Grand Rapids as its office manager. She also volunteered for various churches.

It was at Kentwood Community Church that Daniel received a nudge to go into the ministry from her then-pastor and, earlier, from a women involved with Christians for Biblical Equality, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that believes the Bible, when properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all ages.

The final push

"The pastor at the time met me and said, 'I know you have a call in the ministry. I think you need to do something about it,'" recalled Daniel. "That was the final push to enter Grand Rapids Theological Seminary."

But even while a student at GRTS, Daniel didn't have an inkling she would ultimately land a job as a hospice chaplain. Daniel eventually earned her Masters of Divinity Degree in 2011, taking four years to earn her diploma.

"I thought I was going to be a teaching pastor," said Daniel. "I really thought that was where I was headed until my very last semester, when I felt this real strong pull into end of life. I didn't know why."

She understands now.

"I see how God has equipped me for it," said Daniel. "He continues to give me what I need. As you look back, you do see different things."

After graduating from GRTS, Daniel first volunteered for Hospice of Michigan before hiring on with Faith Hospice as a staff chaplain. She is one of four fulltime and one on-call chaplain with Faith Hospice.

Her ministry to terminally-ill patients is concentrated at the area hospitals, occasional home visits and at Trillium Woods, 8214 Pfeiffer Farms Drive SW in Byron Center, the 20-bed residential hospice center of Faith Hospice, the hospice care division of Holland Homes.

A nuanced role

Faith Hospice ministers to patients of all faiths, as well as those with no expressed faith, or who are atheists and agnostics, said Daniel.

"I have a nuanced role," said Daniel. "We take spirituality very seriously. It's very important that I am not only prepared through theological training but I'm connected through a faith. It's important that I represent that faith to those around us. Faith Hospice is a Christian faith based organization but we welcome people of all faiths or of no faith, so we're meeting people where they are."

Some people may consider Daniel's ministry as a hospice chaplain too depressing. She doesn't see it in that light.

"It's very fulfilling," she said. "You're meeting people at the point of their journey where they have all of their life behind them and to intersect with them at this point is quite an honor and privilege.

"It would seem morbid and depressing looking at the outside everyday with people sometimes at their last breath but it's not," continued Daniel. "It feels so natural because for one thing, I know I'm called to it and it (death) is a part of life and it's quite an honor to be at that part of their journey."

Feels God's smile upon her

And because she answered the call to ministry, Daniel said she feels God's smile upon her life. That, she says, leads her to her own definition of success.

"I don't see the world through eyes of achievement," she said. "It's more organic. Success to me is living with integrity, an honest life that has made a difference with someone in the world, to know that I've been given something to do and I did it. It's not that I did it extremely well or the best, but I did it the best way I could do it."
Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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