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Employee Spotlight

Raye Nell Dyer leaves example of love and ministry at Children’s Hospital

As a chaplain, she brought blessings and comfort to patients, family and employees

by July 18, 2018

Raye Nell Dyer, right, at her retirement party with well-wishers Charlotte Chaney, MBA, former assistant hospital director, and Ian Burr, MD, professor of Pediatrics, emeritus. Photo by Anne Rayner

Every. Single. Day.

For three weeks the Rev. Raye Nell Dyer, the hospital chaplain for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, visited Marcia and Curt Cannon from Fayetteville, Tennessee.

In 2011 Curt, then 7 years old, was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) fighting for his life.

“We were told he had very little chance of living through the night,” recalled Marcia Cannon, his mom. “Things were not good at all. And it sounded like, if he lived, things were not going to be good.

“I was exposed to hospital chaplaincy and just fell in love with the whole premise of being able to be in people’s lives at a time when things are tough”

“And then she [Dyer] came into our room. In a nutshell — I don’t think I would have gotten through what we went through without her.”

What Cannon describes is what Dyer is best known for. As lead chaplain at Children’s Hospital, she visited patients and families at the bedside — offering conversation, support, prayers, and helping them to clarify their thoughts, feelings and questions.

“She had a whole hospital with people she needed to visit and she came to see us every day,” said Cannon. “She sat with me. She prayed with me.

“Her presence gave me strength to push forward. I really don’t know how else to even describe it.”

She not only empowered patients and families, but partnered with hospital staff to encourage and support them as well.

Dyer shares a laugh with Andy Peterson, director of Volunteer Services and Pastoral Care, and the Rev. Kira Schlesinger. Photo by Anne Rayner

For 21 years Dyer enriched the lives of many who entered the doors of the hospital, just like the Cannons did that day seven years ago.

On June 29 Dyer was celebrated for her tireless work during a retirement reception at the hospital.

Dyer had been planning for this day for months, she said, in an effort to create a smooth transition for both the department and herself.

“I cry one minute and laugh the next about leaving,” Dyer said. “It’s time for me to move on to the next chapter in my life and time for the department to grow.”

A gift for ministry

Dyer came to Vanderbilt in 1997 to serve as the night chaplain for the adult hospital and later became the chaplain for adult trauma and pediatrics once she began working days. When the freestanding children’s hospital opened in 2004, she moved into the lead chaplain role.

A native of Big Spring, Texas, Dyer attended Sam Houston State University where she majored in social work. It was there she became involved in a campus Christian organization and discovered her gift and interest for ministry.

Dyer attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where she earned her Master of Divinity degree. She was ordained in 1993.

“It was so important to create a place that everyone could feel was their own sanctuary,” said Dyer of the chapel that includes two prayer rooms. “Families and patients come. Staff from all religious backgrounds find this a place of respite.”

“I was exposed to hospital chaplaincy and just fell in love with the whole premise of being able to be in people’s lives at a time when things are tough,” Dyer said. “It’s not that I was comfortable or glad to be in crisis, but I was able to be present. In the midst of the awful there is a lot of grace and love.

“As a chaplain, we help soften the blow. We can’t fix one thing. We are not about fixing, but about walking alongside people and offering support and meaningful ministry of presence.”

The Rev. Leslie Chandra congratulates Dyer on her retirement. Photo by Anne Rayner

Dyer spent her first years as a campus minister at various schools throughout Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee. Her longest stent was at the University of Texas Medical Branch where she served as a campus minister and hospital chaplain for 10 years before finding her way to Vanderbilt.

Once here, Dyer’s gift of caring for others became well known.

Debbie Lowen, MD, of the Center for Child Protection and Well-Being at Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt has observed Dyer’s work in some of the harshest situations.

“I am a child abuse pediatrician and I leave parents very upset and scared very often,” Lowen said. “Having pastoral care is very beneficial during this emotional crisis. I have [also] watched Raye Nell caring for our staff during difficult and emotionally charged cases, ensuring that they received the support necessary for them to do their jobs.

“She is so caring, down to earth and incredibly genuine. I wish to emulate her. She has been a great asset to this institution, the patients, parents and all of the staff.”

In the two decades Dyer has been at Vanderbilt, she has been a part of many difficult situations that she admits challenged her own faith. But she has also experienced great triumphs.

Like Curt Cannon, that boy who was in the PICU seven years ago, who is now 14 years old.

Curt was hit by a car while he was riding his bike, suffered multiple skull fractures and was near death. His parents were told after his discharge from Vanderbilt, while Curt was undergoing rehabilitation care at another facility, not to expect much after the devastating brain injury.

“Throughout his recovery and even ‘til this day, we stay in touch [with Raye Nell],” said Marcia Cannon. “There is no medical explanation for his recovery. He is a straight A student. He wake-surfs. He wake-boards. He rides bikes. It took a village and Raye Nell was a big part of that for us.”


One of the most memorable achievements Dyer made during her time at Children’s Hospital was the creation of Blessing of Hands. First started as a way to honor the nurses at the Medical Center, it soon grew into a biannual event.

She also performed weddings, baptisms, blessings, memorial services and a vast array of worship services in the chapel she helped to design.

“It was so important to create a place that everyone could feel was their own sanctuary,” said Dyer of the chapel that includes two prayer rooms. “Families and patients come. Staff from all religious backgrounds find this a place of respite.”

The entire Children’s Hospital has been blessed by Dyer, said Terrell Smith, director, Patient and Family Engagement at VUMC.

As the new building was under construction before it opened in 2004, Dyer walked through saying a prayer for the building, its future occupants, parents and the teams working within the walls of the medical facility.

“The thoughtfulness that she brings to situations is really amazing,” said Smith, who still remembers one of her first interactions with Dyer — a prayer left on her door the morning of Smith’s first Joint Commission visit.

“Raye Nell had done a prayer walk through the Children’s Hospital and she stopped by my door, the managers’ doors and wrote a prayer,” Smith said. “That prayer just gave me such a sense that this (review) was going to be OK. I carried that prayer with me throughout the entire visit.”

Gestures like that, said Dyer, are what inspires and drives her daily work.

“I wholeheartedly believe that caring for others spiritually, emotionally and physically is one of my main passions in this life — walking alongside people, encouraging, loving and helping them reach their full potential.

“I love to interact with the patients and families. The nurses, doctors, social workers, everybody who has a hand in caring for patients. It’s the interaction and joy. Even in the midst of the difficulty, there is still joy and hope.”

For now, Dyer who wants to travel, write a bit and learn to line dance, will spend a little more time on her “dumpy bass fishing boat” on Percy Priest Lake with friends — watching the sunsets, solving the world’s problems and sharing their hearts.

“I’ve been doing it for 10 years,” she said of her evening boating excursions. “That’s where I have gotten my cup filled.”

When something really nice happens to a friend, lots of people show up with smiles on their faces. Photo by Anne Rayner

Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital, Terrell Smith, Raye Nell Dyer, Chaplain, Pastoral Care