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Georgia student pastor works with Maryland COVID-19 patients


LAUREL, Md. (BP) — It’s a Wednesday like many others of late. Chris Codding logs onto Zoom and chats with teens he leads as a volunteer student pastor at Cassville Baptist Church. He brings a devotional. They talk about what they’ve been doing and share prayer requests.

After leaving the meeting just before 7 p.m., Codding gets ready for the next part of his evening. Surrounded by old X-ray copies in an otherwise empty storage room at Laurel Medical Center, he puts on the N95 mask that had been hanging around his neck. He secures his surgical gown and puts on a pair of gloves, then another pair on top of those. A second surgical mask goes over his N95 so he doesn’t have to change it so often. A cap goes over his hair. Then comes a pair of goggles, followed by a face shield.

With that, the 40-year-old is finally set to begin his 12-hour shift as a radiologic technologist. This is his seventh week at the Maryland hospital, where he performs imaging procedures for patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Codding gets an up-close view of not only what the illness does to the outside of patients, but how it ravages the lungs as well.

“People come in with chest pain, low blood pressure,” Codding said. “When we get them from other hospitals they have already been diagnosed [as positive]. Many go straight to a room but also get a second diagnosis in the ER. There are others who come straight here who haven’t been diagnosed yet. Some of the patients get sent home if doctors feel they can recover there.”

He works where he is needed, even filling in at nearby Prince George Hospital after a radiologic technologist — the same position Codding occupies — contracted COVID-19 and died. When the remaining workers on that shift at Prince George had to be quarantined, Codding and others filled in temporarily. The rest of the staff at Laurel worked extra to make up the difference in manpower.

Codding, who was born in Massachusetts but grew up in Rome, Ga., has served in his current role at Cassville Baptist for 15 years. During that time, he’s worked as a radiologic tech in Alabama and Georgia. Two years ago, he also took a position as an instructor at Georgia Northwestern Technical College in Rome.

He traces his two callings — health care and youth ministry — back to a 2003 mission trip.

“We went to New York, where I ended up doing youth ministry for three years,” he said. “While there, God opened up a door for me to work in a hospital.”

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, someone in a work-related Facebook group Codding belongs to posted of a need for radiologic techs at a Washington D.C.-area hospital. Codding raised his hand.

He set out for Maryland on April 5, driving his 2006 Expedition packed with belongings, including a bicycle, a basketball and a fishing pole for his days off.

“I expected to be there around eight weeks,” he said. “Now it looks like we may be here 17 weeks total, through Aug. 2.”

Even from several states away, Codding remains vitally involved with his church. In addition to helping lead the Wednesday night youth gathering, Codding also helps host the livestream of Sunday services for Cassville Baptist from his room at the Hampton Inn around the corner from the hospital.

He logs in about 20 minutes early to chat with others, asking them about their week. During the service he’ll answer questions people post about the message being preached by interim pastor Mike Stephens. If someone wants to know how to give to the church, he’ll point them in the right direction. At the end he’ll offer a digital connection card and engage in conversation, perhaps asking them for their favorite point of the sermon.

Soon after logging off, Codding goes to sleep, because in a few hours he will need to be set for the first 12-hour shift of the week, which begins at 7 p.m. He also works Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, making Thursday a much-needed day of rest. Friday and Saturday are often spent exploring the area finding a place to fish, shoot hoops or go on a hike. Sundays are largely spent trying to get his body clock back in rhythm for the work schedule. He’s found it better to avoid the news when watching TV, choosing to focus on cooking shows instead.

Starting in late June, he’ll begin traveling back and forth between Maryland and Georgia, where he’ll teach at his college a few days a week. He hopes for a chance to reconnect with students in person each week before flying back to Maryland each Wednesday night to prepare for long shifts Thursday through Sunday.

“It’s a crazy schedule, but I don’t want to leave my team short,” he said. “I’ll rest while at the airport and in the air.”