Wednesday, July 23, 2014
“The new Chaplain culture …”
In reading Hospice Chaplains Take Up Bedside Counseling, an older article in the New York Times by Paul Vitello, published on October 28, 2008, I came upon this passage: “The new demand [for Chaplains] has contributed to a steep rise in the number of chaplains of all kinds, said Josephine Schrader, executive director of the Association for Professional Chaplains, the largest certification body in the country. The increase includes traditional chaplains like those who serve police and fire departments, but the vast majority of recruits in the last 10 years — an estimated 3,000 chaplains, representing a 50 percent jump, she said — are working in hospice care. They are in some ways a different breed. “The new chaplain culture is more professional and secular.” I was doing well with the article until the comment, “more … secular.” I’m not sure I know exactly what that is intended to mean. If it means that the hospice chaplain can speak intelligently about a multitude of issues that are not religious, but secular, Ok. If it means that the hospice chaplain is conversant about the medical jargon swirling about the hospice patient, Ok. If it refers to the hospice chaplain being a skilled listener and not a rhetorician during a pastoral care visit, Ok. But, if by secular is meant the antithesis of spiritual then it’s not Ok. By spiritual I mean sensitivity to sacred ideals and practices. Most of the patients I have served desire the sacred act of prayer. The dying are very interested in spiritual matters. They might not be Christian in their faith practice and belief, but they are interested enough in their personal spirituality to ask for a spiritual leader of their faith to assist them on their final journey. In my work, I have provided spiritual care for patients from every American-based religious denomination, Eastern religious systems, atheists, Jewish persons, agnostics, and others that are spiritual, but not religious. How can a hospice chaplain do that? There is only one way … by being oneself. I am who I am. I don’t parade my faith in my visits. I don’t seek to proselytize, convert or otherwise evangelize. I seek to accept, to provide support and encouragement, to listen to the story of each patient, to know them as persons. As I look to my personal hero for spiritual care, Jesus Christ, I try to emulate His broadness of appeal to persons of all walks of life and value them as He did. My experience has been that the question of "Where will I spend eternity?" comes up without any prompting by me. In those sacred moments, if the patient so desires we discuss the issue. If the patient desires a spiritual guide from his or her faith community, I contact that person. Otherwise, we try to sort things out with the patient. So, in the final analysis, I still don’t know what was meant by ‘secular’, I just know what I do and who I am. That’s enough for me.