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DAVE PECKHAM

Dave Peckham is a red headed, red bearded man with a South African accent. His voice is sensitive, calming, and peaceful apropos to his role as chaplain at Simi Valley Hospital. As a chaplain, he’s a clergyman without a congregation. His job is to provide spiritual care to patients, families, and caregivers.

Although Chaplain Peckham is a Seventh Day Adventist, his job is not to impose his own religious beliefs. He must meet the needs of all denominations.

Recently he dealt with the death of a Tibetan Buddhist. The Tibetan family’s beliefs held that the body must be left undisturbed for 48 hours. No tubes were to be removed, no clothing changed. They wanted the body left in the hospital bed while its spirit or soul passed. The chaplain’s job involved negotiating with hospital staff, usually intent on moving the dead promptly, in order to have them leave the body in a room for two days. He bridged the conflict between hospital policy and religion and provided for the spiritual needs of a grieving family.

Born in Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, his parents were missionaries. In 1991, seeking to remove his family from the political strife in South Africa, he moved to the United States. For four years he had his own congregation in Oregon. But while working part time at a local hospital, he realized he had a gift for compassion and chose to change from pastoral work to chaplaincy.

“If someone wants a Catholic priest or a Jewish rabbi, my first endeavor would be to get one of their clergy to come minister to them. I know I can’t do everything. I can’t be all things to all people. But I try.” He has no agenda but to simply be helpful, to be present with a patient or family in their time of need, to pray with them if they choose. “Obviously, I have to pray in a non-sectarian way, with language that is not offensive to anyone.”

The chaplain does not view prayer as a “magic wand” of healing. He believes that God has provided man the potential creative skills to allow healthgivers to cure. “But I do believe prayer plays a very significant role in helping doctors and nurses to heal and in preparing our minds to accept whatever final outcome is to be.”

In 1966, Dave Peckham’s brother, an honor student with a scholarship to medical school, was involved in a tragic car accident and left quadriplegic. Seeing his brother paralyzed, threw him into a crisis of faith. But he eventually came to realize that somewhere in all of life’s challenges, God must be there, must have some plan.

“I knew at that point in my life I wanted to be part of God’s plan. I wanted to do something what would be meaningful to people. I wouldn’t just make money, use my life for self-indulgence. I would use it to bring some comfort, some hope, some difference in the lives of people.”

Dave Peckham feels very fulfilled today in his role as chaplain. He’s not a saint. But that may be only because Seventh Day Adventist’s don’t have saints.