Spiritual Care Roundtable
The Spiritual Care team provides expert guidance for elders and employees throughout the St. John’s organization. How important are the services of this unique discipline? When and how do they step in to offer greater support for elders in need? What elements of their role would surprise you? Why do they do what they do? We let our team of five experts answer these questions in the first installment of our roundtable series.
How important is it for St. John’s to provide opportunities for people to practice (and sometimes rediscover) their faith?
Sarah Culp: It is crucial. It is part of who we are as human beings.
Chava Redonnet: We are all spiritual beings and we all have spiritual questions. As chaplains, we are here for everybody whether they are religious or not. But for many people, religion is really important to them. We have people here (at St. John’s) who went to mass every day when they lived at home. Every single day! Providing them with a sense of connection with god—in a way that often isn’t what they are used to—is a big part of our job.
Nancy DeRycke: Spirituality is part and parcel of their wellness journey—it cannot be separated from their health plan. Even when their bodies fail, we can help them be peaceful.
Michelle Rosenbaum: St. John’s offers a unique opportunity for everyone to be spiritually cared for; to be met exactly where they are and nurtured throughout their entire time here.
For those who do actively practice their faith, how does spiritual care provide for each person’s unique needs?
Bradley Klug: We are considered clinical support. Our vision is to empower direct care staff to fill in those gaps that we chaplains aren’t always able to cover on a moment-to-moment, day-to-day basis.
Chava Redonnet: This is a multidisciplinary thing. We are in communication with the rest of the staff to meet the needs of the elders. It is all connected.
Sarah Culp: Let’s say you have a Jewish elder and you have a shahbaz caring for her who doesn’t have any experience with the Jewish faith. That shahbaz can reach out to us and say “I know this is important to Mary, can you help?”
Bradley Klug: Right. Then the chaplain can both step in and take care of that need or we can put tools in their hands—a prayer they can read or a book they can share with them—to provide for a very important part of that elder’s life.
What misconceptions do you see that people sometimes have about your work?
Chava Redonnet: We are not just about religion. Sometimes that can be a . . .
Sarah Culp: A stumbling block for people.
Chava Redonnet: Right.
Nancy DeRycke: I think people sometimes think that all we do is literally spout God or say prayers all the time with residents. That is far from the wholeness of what we do. Often, it is listening to stories, or giving hugs or a smile to help them be comfortable and know they are treasured and still important to people.
Sarah Culp: For both staff and elders, when someone has had an experience with an organized religion in the past and says “I don’t want to go to worship, don’t talk to me about church or religion,” that does not make them less of a spiritual person. Anybody can be experiencing grief, or feel lonely or feel like they are not being heard. Helping them through those issues are critical for our roles as chaplains.
Talk a little bit about end-of-life guidance and support. What does it mean to you to be part of such a crucial role in a person’s final moments?
Nancy DeRycke: I find that it is a sacred time to remind them that there is nothing that keeps them from God. All in the past is forgiven and there is time to move forward in peace.
Michelle Rosenbaum: When our role calls for us to be present at the very end of life, it is truly humbling. The very fact that the chaplain shows up (often at the request of the family) eases the burden of death and creates calm for the elder and family alike.
Bradley Klug: I think in the past—under a more institutional model—people looked at chaplains as sort of end-of-life gurus who were brought in at the very end. With the move to small homes, we think that view needs to change. It has to come from the home (neighborhood) itself. How do they want to see things done? We’ll be there to lead those efforts and support them, but we would like to see things happen more organically.
What is the most personally gratifying aspect of your role at St. John’s?
Michelle Rosenbaum: One of the greatest rewards is to listen from the heart and to be witness to a person exposing what they hold near and dear to them. More often than not a relationship forms out of being present in an individual’s life and that is one of the greatest blessings in this role.
Chava Redonnet: It is the relationships with the elders.
Bradley Klug: For me it’s the connections with elders and their families. It doesn’t happen with everyone all the time, but when it does you know it. You make connections, and those are the things that really matter.
Nancy DeRycke: The privilege of being a part of elders’ and their families’ and staffs’ joyful and sorrowful times, times of frustration and their attempts to grow.
Sarah Culp: The spiritual care team is playing a crucial role in the culture that we are envisioning here (at St. John’s Home). In every training I have been to . . . what I hear is that the values that we are aiming for are all deeply spiritual kinds of things. We are helping make this transition—something that can be challenging and even at times conflictual—and help transform it into something that is life-giving. There are times when you can see it and you can feel it. It is one of the reasons I am committed to being here at St. John’s.