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Pastoral and Diverse

Since reading about the cuts in correctional chaplaincy I have been reflecting with despair. From at least two or three directions. It begins with my personal upset that our present government appears to show little understanding or recognition of diversity. I was alarmed when it was decided that a Wiccan Chaplain was inappropriate and not needed. My alarm increased when the decision-making around the fact to let go of  part time chaplains in corrections was financially led without discernment into the fact that most were non Christian. The quick remark to explain the decision, showing no research, was that Christian Chaplains can care for everyone. This remark met my own frustration about the direction of hospital chaplains to becoming washed out generalized spiritual care givers. Our largest education program called CASC (Canadian Association of Spiritual Care) now works to form care providers who are psychotherapists with a spiritual care modality. Many disciplines can claim that. (I will expand on my own thoughts and hopes for the direction and education of chaplaincy in a future blog.)  Pastoral care which I seek to bring as a chaplain is different. I have found few better ways of describing the difference than the words of Joseph J. Driscoll of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains in the U.S:

During my sabbatical while working on a manuscript for an upcoming book on spirituality and medicine, I was delineating a “menu of spiritual care services” so that others on the health care team could understand exactly what we offer to our patients, residents, parishioners, or clients. When I came to choose a term for “patient visitation,” the regular interaction with those to whom we minister (in contrast to more specialized services such as “ethical consultation” or “ministry to staff”), I realized the power of the term pastoral care.

Here’s what I wrote. . . . I would like to distinguish pastoral care provided by the professional Chaplain from spiritual care provided by all members on the health care team. Pastoral care is specific in its history, ecclesiastical or congregational authorization, training, skill sets, licensure, and patient focus. Spiritual care is general in that all have some greater or lesser responsibility for the spiritual dimension of the person’s well being and health. Pastoral care is one specific kind of spiritual care….

In addition to history and tradition, I have come to realize that if everyone is offering spiritual care, then what defines what the chaplain does that others on the team are neither called nor skilled to perform? For a long time some of us spoke of professional spiritual care in contrast to a general concept of spiritual care. My recent experience, however, particularly with the Harvard program, Spirituality and Medicine, is that the nurses, and now even physicians, will strongly claim that they are doing spiritual care, and further, at times, will not even reference the chaplain, never mind his or her unique competence in the field.

On the other hand, none of these professions can or do lay claim to pastoral care. Pastoral care emerges from the religious traditions, historically Christian, but now clearly interfaith in the ranks of the professional bodies.

Pastoral care is also highly symbolic. It is not simply the tending to the spiritual needs of a person. The pastoral care person, the chaplain, represents the religious tradition before he or she ever says a word or offers a gesture of support. The patient, resident or client (or even parishioner who is inactive or alienated), whether religious or not, knows that the provider is not merely a single individual with listening and responding skills, but the provider is also a whole community with traditions and rituals.

As a hospital chaplain I visit and care for people of all faiths and no faith and in between. From Agnostic to Christian to Wiccan to Seventh Day Adventist to Aboriginal Spirituality to Jehovah Witness to Muslim to Humanist to Jewish to Buddhist to Atheist. And all the myriad of magic and mystery and earthiness in-between and beyond. And I learn and grow from everyone. However, I could not do this without support from colleagues of different faith backgrounds in chaplaincy who have expertise and knowledge. And sadly sometimes I have no one to turn to. Diversity teaches and opens up the world. My learning from my patients is a gift I treasure but it is not their responsibility to teach me. I need to seek out wisdom from my colleagues in order to give the care. Cultural references and images of God and surrender and awe are not all one and the same. And words are powerful. Everyone has a right (an actual legal right too) to the good care of hearing their words of faith spoken with knowledge and accountability. And no matter who I visit I still arrive wrapped in my own identity and faith as a Christian, an Anglican. I offer pastoral care from my faith of a welcoming loving God of all life and I have never been received with anything but gratefulness and the desire for connection. But many times in order to give the best care I need to call a Chaplain who is different from me. Here below are the words of Archbishop Fred Hiltz words from his recent letter to the minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews. I am grateful for his letter and in full agreement :

As is the case with our military chaplains, correctional chaplaincy is responding to a growing diversity in the prison population by including religious support from many faith traditions primarily through part-time arrangements.

The decision to cut all part-time chaplains will have a detrimental effect on the functioning of the prison chaplaincy program and risks having a de facto discriminatory effect. Value for taxpayer dollars needs to take into account the importance of providing adequate chaplaincy services to meet the needs of a changing and diversified Canadian population, something that contributes to the overall good and safety of the Canadian public.

Joanne Davies

About Joanne Davies

I am a Hospital Chaplain in Toronto. I began doing on call work during my Divinity studies. After receiving my M.Div. I completed a year's residency in CPE at St. Michael's hospital. For the past 11 years I have been a Toronto Diocesan Chaplain. I am the Ecumenical Chaplain at Mount Sinai Hospital and the Chaplain at St. John's Rehab. I am also an Anglican priest. And a Trekkie. And a Vegetarian who loves to vacation in Venice Beach, California.
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