Like wild flowers, some sweet things in life happen beyond our view. That's how I feel about the little LDS branches that have blossomed in hospitals around Utah. Their wondrous good works and spiritual power remain something of a secret.
But then the branches do operate somewhat under the radar. They have no unit numbers and no funds. They are dependent branches that pretty much exist for one purpose — to bring hope, healing and blessing to the lives of hospital patients and workers — LDS and otherwise.
There are more than a half-dozen such branches now, complete with branch presidencies, relief societies, high priest groups and instructors.
Bill Kettley is the current branch president at LDS Hospital.
"Each of our meetings are just a half-hour long, and our sacrament meeting speakers talk for just five minutes," he says. "And since we're in a hospital, we do wash our hands a lot."
People are called to serve in the branches for 18 months, but according to President Kettley, "The members feel this is a very sacred ministry. No one ever wants to leave."
Needless to say, giving blessings of comfort and healing is the hallmark of the hospital ministries. During the Christmas season, members of the branch may give as many as 500 blessings and make more than 2,000 priesthood visits.
"In a hospital lots of people come and go," says Rhett James, a writer, teacher and former hospital branch president. "Some patients are homeless. Some are from out of town. It's kind of like the mission field. There's a lot of flexibility. I remember we had two sayings: 'How can I be of service?' and 'Let's move!'"
"It's not about IQ," President Kettley adds. "It's about 'I do.'"
For training, branches often use "Healing the Sick," a talk given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks at the April 2010 LDS general conference. But given the surroundings and situation, it's impossible to foresee every event. Surprises abound. James remembers, for example, the day President Gordon B. Hinckley came to the hospital on a Sunday to visit his wife, Marjorie.
"He politely asked if he could be the one to pass the sacrament to his wife," James says, still touched by the moment.
And all the tender and memorable moments do add up quickly. In fact, James says when he returns to his old hospital branch "the Spirit is so strong I almost feel like I'm in the temple."
One Sunday, James peeked into a room only to see Elder Robert D. Hales looking at him. Taken aback, he said, "Well, Elder Hales. I guess you're presiding today."
Elder Hales smiled and told him to carry on with his calling.
But then that's a specialty in the LDS hospital branches — fulfilling callings. And those who serve there do it with gusto, goodwill and a full helping of joy.