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State agency employees underscore importance of her chaplaincy work

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Prisons have them. Hospitals have them. Law enforcement agencies have them. Military bases have them.
And at least one state agency has them — the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, one of the state’s largest employers.
“Everybody knows Judy as the DHS chaplain,” said George Johnson, DHS public relations director, of Judy Hill.
Hill, however, never planned to be a chaplain. “I was happy as a DHS accountant in the finance division,” she noted. When Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma chaplaincy specialist Joe Williams approached Hill to ask her about serving at DHS as volunteer chaplain, she said she wasn’t interested.
But doors began to open, and “it became clear God had an assignment for me,” Hill said.
She received an endorsement from the former Southern Baptist Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) and began duties as a volunteer chaplain for the 8,000 DHS employees in 1990.
Hill said there was some opposition to the program when it was announced because of the “fear of the unknown.”
But the program began gaining credibility the first month with three tragedies that affected many DHS employees.
“One employee’s wife died suddenly and a division administrator died of AIDS,” Hill recalled. “Another employee survived a devastating house fire but died two months later at Baptist Burn Center.
“In that short period of time, employees were introduced to the real meaning of a chaplaincy program,” Hill said.
The purpose of the volunteer chaplaincy program at DHS is to provide an interdenominational, care-oriented service to DHS employees and their families who are in crisis.
“The service is not meant to replace or usurp the ministry of the local church, but rather to help in times of emergency,” said Hill, who is a member of Council Road Baptist Church, Bethany. Her chaplaincy work often extends to employees’ pastors, priests or rabbis.
Hill, who retired in December 1996, now devotes full-time to her volunteer chaplaincy position. Three additional chaplains help her: Henry Hank Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church, Proctor, and a retired military chaplain; Gary Holderman, a United Methodist pastor in Laverne who is also a police chaplain; and Don Venable, a bivocational Methodist pastor in Ada.
“DHS has employees in every county in Oklahoma, so we need chaplains in every area of the state,” Hill noted.
Hill said DHS director Howard Hendrick told her he wants to know immediately of employees’ illnesses, family deaths or other crises.
Acting director Raymond Haddock, who served before Hendrick’s appointment, said it was his dream to have a chaplain available for every DHS employee in Oklahoma. The chaplaincy program is directed by a 12-member advisory committee, which helps administer the program, expands awareness and recruit additional volunteer chaplains.
Volunteers must be endorsed by their denomination, approved by the advisory committee and be willing to participate in required crisis intervention training.
Instrumental in forming the volunteer chaplaincy program at DHS was Chase Gordon, the brother-in-law of Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney. Gordon, who died last year, worked in the client advocacy area and helped write the guidelines for the program.
He said, “What a lot of these people need is faith.”
PR director Johnson said he recently paged Hill when an employee’s daughter’s boyfriend showed up at work with a gun “to take mama out because he was mad at both the mother and daughter.”
“Our employee was scared to go home, afraid the boyfriend would be waiting for her,” Johnson recounted. “Judy took charge of the situation and found a place for the woman to stay until the crisis passed.”
Johnson said Hill was also instrumental in helping employees after the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
“We had a number of people in the agency who lost loved ones or had family members who were hurt,” Johnson said. “We even had one employee whose husband committed suicide as a result of the bombing. Judy was there day and night.”
Norma Goff, who has worked in aging services for 14 years, was the recipient of chaplaincy services when she had surgery in 1991.
“The first I heard about the chaplaincy program was when Judy Hill came to my bedside and told me she was representing DHS,” Goff recalled. “It meant a lot to me to know that someone from my workplace cared.”
Since then Goff, who is now a member of the chaplaincy advisory committee, said she is committed to the kind of message the chaplaincy program represents. “It’s a spiritual thing,” she noted. “For such a long time there has been a message in the workplace that you can’t mix your job ethic with religion or spiritual things. When Judy came to visit me, she wasn’t just a visitor. She came representing God. …
“That’s the difference in the chaplaincy program,” she continued. “It represents a spiritual presence in time of crisis.”
Underscoring Hill’s work after the federal building bombing, Marilyn Alsup said, “Judy visited with all of us, arranged for a psychologist to talk to us and led us through a debriefing.”
Alsup, who works in the child support enforcement division, noted Hill is always there to assist when employees or their families are in pain.
“She may do nothing more than give a hug or send a card, but you know that someone cares,” Alsup said. “The chaplaincy program is wonderful. We’re fortunate to have it at DHS.”
“A chaplain can be a very positive influence in the workplace,” emphasized Hill, who has earned a certificate for outstanding service from the governor and an award as business and industrial chaplain of the year by the BGCO.
“I have learned that no matter what the loss, people are hurting,” Hill continued. “The best gift I can give another person is a loving, caring, friendly spirit … a willingness to listen, to laugh with a person who is happy, to cry with one who is hurting, just to be available.”

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  • Dana Williamson