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New Massey chaplain embraces holistic care for patients and staff

Nov 23, 2021

Reverend Charles Riffee image Reverend Charles Riffee

Reverend Charles Riffee, M.Div., joined VCU Massey Cancer Center in October 2021. As chaplain, he will provide pastoral care and spiritual guidance to patients, family and staff. In this Q&A, learn more about Riffee and how he plans to apply his style of chaplaincy to the unique challenges brought about by cancer.

What is your role at Massey?

As a chaplain, my role is to support the spiritual and emotional needs that arise during the cancer journey. I often visit individuals as they receive treatments. My hope is to build from basic patient interactions to working with the Integrative Health team in offering group counseling, waiting room services and follow-up care. Though my official role is primarily focused on patients, I believe that staff care is central to my particular vision of chaplaincy. When working to provide good patient care, self-care is often neglected or unattainable. This has been my observation in every health system I have worked. As trust is built, the chaplain can serve as a one-on-one confidential partner to share needs and identify sources of strength. I hope to earn that trust over time.

How did you become interested in hospital chaplaincy?

My first experience with hospital chaplaincy was a summer internship, while in seminary. I worked at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. under the supervision of Reverend Sheila McNiel-Lee. I learned that what I valued most in my vocation was working with small groups, individuals and families. I also found that the hospital setting allows us to lower many of the barriers we set up to hide our needs and feelings. This is when true healing can take place.

Where were you born?

I grew up in Saint Albans, West Virginia. It is a small town outside of Charleston. For those who are unfamiliar with the area, just remember that I-64 will get you there and Tutor’s Biscuit World is a great place to stop for a quick peakfast.

Where did you go to school?

I went to Centre College in Danville, KY for undergraduate study. It is a small liberal arts school and I loved my time there. The professors really knew the students and it felt like a slightly bigger world from the one in which I grew up. I studied ancient Mediterranean languages and cultures, which focused a lot on Hepew and archaeology. Then I went to Yale Divinity School in New Haven, CT for seminary study. During this time, I was exposed to many different types of ministry, including school and hospital chaplaincy. I personally grew the most during my time in the healthcare setting and I later found myself training at University of Virginia for clinical pastoral education. 

Reverend Charles Riffee

When you’re not at work, what can we find you doing?

I am a father of two girls. Most of my time is spent caring for them, which includes a lot of play. Outside of caregiving, I enjoy assisting at a local church in Richmond. I spend my time indoors watching movies, reading science fiction and cooking. When I am outside, I love to hike, garden and play rugby.

What motivates you?

I love people and their stories. Every person has a story worth telling. I find big life changes often cause harm to a person’s sense of self, belief and purpose. As a chaplain, I am a keeper of stories. Through presence, conversation and prayer, we can take back to the most beautiful, pressing and important aspects of who they are amid life’s many challenges. They are validated for the person they are and not the symptom, diagnosis or surgery they’ve encountered.

If you could be anything else, what would that be?

I think I would probably do something similar, albeit in a different setting. I love to teach. I love to listen and offer counsel when desired. I love to write. I live much of my life in my heart and my mind. When both are in a healthy place, I feel most connected to others when I am able to be a presence and a help in another’s life.

Who has been your role model?

I never knew the man, but one of my greatest influences in childhood development and counseling is Fred Rogers. Though he was often speaking to the youngest of children, the lessons he provided of kindness, taking time and finding value is not lost on me. He has been a reminder that success is not always what we think it is and that we honor a person for who they are by simply being present with them.

What would we be surprised to know about you?

Many people are surprised to know that I have tattoos. They are for me and are typically hidden by my clothing. They share reminders of what I value and the story of my life. I have a cross and icon that reminds me of the time I was called to ministry. I have an oak tree with the numbers 143 (I = 1, Love = 4, You = 3) hidden within the leaves to remind me of my childhood. I have a nature scene with a mother bear and two cubs to remind me of my current journey as a husband and father.

Tell us about your family

I have been married for ten years to my high school sweetheart, Dr. Yinghao Long Riffee. She is a hospitalist with HCA and she did her residency at VCU. We have two small children named Emma and Margaret. The matriarch of our family, however, is our twelve-year-old mini dachshund named Lily. We recently moved back to Richmond.

How can patients and staff connect with you?

The easiest way to coordinate a chaplaincy session is to contact VCU Health’s Pastoral Care Department at (804) 828-0928.

Written by: Susan Chandler, Ph.D., R.N.

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