Hospice chaplain and Kuyper graduate Daniel Przybylski knows that in life’s darkest
moments, even people with great faith can experience doubt.
During these periods of uncertainty, people ask themselves hard questions that do not always have easy answers.
“Why would an all-powerful Creator allow suffering in His world?”
“How can I find God’s purpose for my life when all I feel right now is anger and fear?”
“Am I enough?”
Yet, Przybylski knows it can be helpful to wrestle with life’s biggest questions alongside a trusted partner, and he said he feels honored to step in and help others during times of pain and confusion.
“As Christians, we often express our desire to be a reflection of Christ Jesus,” Przybylski said. “The same response would be appropriate in how we go about ministry. Jesus walked with others well. He was a leader who did things with the people as the ultimate servant leader.
“In my own ministry as a chaplain, walking with others is a core part of the role. When others know they are not alone, they feel a sense of hope, peace, and comfort.”
Preparing to Serve
From an early age, Przybylski knew he wanted to become a chaplain. This decision stemmed partly from hearing his mother, a registered nurse, share stories of caring for her patients.
Przybylski realized he wanted to work in a hospital while pursuing a vocational path different from his mother’s. Instead of treating others’ physical needs, he wanted to address others’ spiritual needs.
In 2015, he enrolled at Kuyper College, where he majored in Ministry Leadership and Pastoral Care. Coursework in ministry and theology provided a grounding in a Christian worldview and Biblical perspective, while counseling, psychology and pastoral care classes explored the inner workings of the human mind.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2019, Przybylski completed a master’s of ministry at Kuyper in 2021 and recently started a second master’s program in pastoral theology at Kingswood University.
The best part of Kuyper’s academic life, he recalled, proved to be the close relationships with Kuyper’s faculty members and learning from their real-world experiences.
“I was impressed by the professionalism and personal attention from Kuyper’s professors,” Przybylski said. “My professors were unmatched in their respective fields, and I have taken various lessons from the wisdom they each imparted to me and built my own craft.”
Przybylski recently joined his former professor, Dr. Dan Kroeze, as a teacher’s assistant, preparing his fellow Kuyper students to enter ministry roles.
Reaching the Forgotten
No two days are alike in the life of a chaplain. Each week brings new people to serve, each coming from unique life circumstances and facing their own challenges.
As ordained clergy members, chaplains provide pastoral care and spiritual guidance to people of all backgrounds and faith traditions. They serve in settings ranging from military bases to mental health facilities, and the nuances of care depend on the type of institution.
Przybylski’s first chaplaincy position took place at Reach the Forgotten Jail Ministry. This multi-denominal ministry maintains a team of 28 chaplains serving 30 counties across Michigan. Inmates enter jail at a low point in their lives, waiting to hear the results of the legal process and learn what their sentence will be. During this low point, inmates often cry out to God and seek help from a chaplain.
At Reach the Forgotten, Przybylski worked in a “God pod,” where he led Bible studies and provided one-on-one spiritual care services to inmates and staff alike. While Przybylski ultimately chose to pursue God’s calling to work in a medical setting, he learned many lessons about overcoming hardship that he carries with him today.
Meeting the Needs of Others
Now, Przybylski splits his time between The Care Team hospice units in Grand Rapids, Brighton and Howell and the University of Michigan Health West hospital. Hospice chaplaincy focuses more on grief-based care, while hospital chaplaincy focuses more on trauma-based care.
Individuals admitted into hospice usually live anywhere between six months to two years. Depending on their conditions, they may remain at home or require daily care in a clinic.
“For hospice patients, there is a gradual process of decline,” Przybylski said. “Most of the time, there’s a sense of acceptance that they will pass, so it’s more about conducting an end-of-life review.”
In many cases, relatives of hospice patients need as much care as the patient.
“Patients are living with family, so there can be severe burnout,” Przybylski said. “Other patients live by themselves in a facility, so there’s guilt from the family about not visiting enough or feeling stressed about finances.”
The pace of care dramatically speeds up for chaplains working in a hospital. A care unit can meet with anywhere between 30 to 50 people in a typical ten-hour shift.
During a shift, Przybylski often encounters patients during a crisis. He offers a listening ear as patients process their situation and voice feelings of fear and panic.
“Every shift is different,” Przybylski said. “A patient might have lost a loved one in a car accident or learned they can no longer taste food because of a cancer diagnosis. There are different sides of care, and our care unit treats each situation holistically as a team.”
The Best Job in the World
The life of a chaplain is not an easy one. Aspiring chaplains pursue continuing education well past their bachelor’s degree and enter a profession without simple solutions to complex problems.
For Przybylski, nothing could be better.
“Some people ask me if I ever feel burned out, and I can honestly say that I am living the dream,” Przybylski said. “Dissatisfaction comes when you start thinking that what you are doing isn’t meaningful. What I do is meaningful even when you are simply present for someone.”
Of course, it helps to have a community. Przybylski leans on his wife, friends and mentor, John DeVries, Spiritual Care Director at University of Michigan Health West, for support.
Przybylski hopes to bring a similar feeling of care to those experiencing doubt and despair.
“I get to be with people in their hurt,” Przybylski said. “I have the best job in the world.”