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Continuing the spiritual journey
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Debbie Hodge
Healthcare Chaplaincy
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Continuing the spiritual journey

The working day for most chaplains and chaplaincy visitors is spent at the bedside, where through conversation, active listening and the process of discernment they join in the spiritual journey of the individual they are visiting. Often it is in these encounters, at times of health crisis, that individuals begin to question the meaning of life, their place in the world, and ask such questions as ‘what is or where is God?’ The sharing of the journey, the dialogue of making sense of what is happening and the seeking of answers may be short or extended depending on how long the individual is in hospital. For some this is the first time that they have asked or debated such issues, and it may not only be a spiritual quest, but also a faith quest, for in times of trouble what do we hold on to?

In conversation and dialogue the chaplain or chaplaincy visitor is enabling a process that offers a deeper awareness of things ‘other’ and the opportunity for integration of body mind and spirit that is the foundation of health ad healing.

For those whom their faith is an essential ingredient of their spirituality the chaplain’s visit supports and affirms. Those who hold a faith, those who are part of a faith community, will find hope and comfort, not only in their faith and tradition, but also in the knowledge that they are supported by prayer while in hospital, and will continue to be supported when they returning home, often in many practical as well as spiritual ways.

Yet many individuals do not have a faith or spiritual home. They have begun their questioning journey, have perhaps begun to see the connection between body mind and spirit and are then discharged home. They will have the care of their body met – there is the District Nurse, the GP, there may be other care packages in place, but who cares for the spirit, who continues to offer that support that enables the continuation of the integration of body mind and spirit?

Parish nursing may provide the bridge between spiritual care in hospital and continuing spiritual care in the community. Parish nursing may provide the link between a spiritual quest and the finding of a faith home.

Parish Nursing is the title given to a specific form of ministry that is undertaken by nurses. Nurses are employed (either paid or voluntary) by church or faith communities (or groups of churches) to offer a ‘health ministry’ both inside the church and to the wider community. The term ‘parish’ is used to denote a geographical location rather than an ecclesiastical viewpoint.

Parish nursing began in the United Sates of America, and has spread around the world, with Parish or Faith Community Nurses found in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India, Korea, Swaziland and South Africa.

Parish Nurses work to enable the integration of faith and health, exploring the link between the spiritual and the physical. Coming from a faith perspective, for the most part Christian, the first, last and underpinning ethos is that of the uniqueness of the individual, their worth in the eyes of God, and the emphasis on the nature of the individual in relation to God. These principals guide intervention and practice.

The Parish Nurse may act as a personal health counsellor, an advocate, a referral agent, a promoter of health, an health educator, a developer of support groups, trainer of volunteers. In all these roles the spiritual dimension of the individual is seen as the centre of health and healing. Traditionally these roles have been developed within the church community and then taken into the wider community. Rather like the ripples on a pond – starting at the centre and moving outwards.

The Parish Nurse role was initially developed by Rev'd Grainger Westberg in the 1985 in the USA. He was a Chaplain and he recognized the role that nurses, with their knowledge of both medical science and of the humanities, played in effecting a professional relationship between the medical establishment and the individual within the context of their community. He saw that spiritual care was needed in the wider community; that if there was a better integration of the spiritual and the physical some people would not find them selves in serve health crisis leading to hospitalisation. If this work was undertaken by nurses with both a nursing and ministry calling and was taken beyond the church walls there could be a significant impact on the health of the wider community. He advocated working pre crisis not post crisis – as part of health promotion – reducing the incidence of hospitalisation.

So where does that leave us today – there is a deeper awaking of things spiritual, there are individuals who are asking question beginning spiritual and faith journeys who need support, there is an urgent need to redress the balance in health care, to recognise once again the importance that spiritual well being has on health outcomes. The faith communities need to regain the taken ground in terms of health and healing, providing places of spiritual care, as well as teaching and social care. The disciples of today should be about the same business of those sent out by Jesus – ‘to preach, teach and heal’.

The linking of parish nursing and health care chaplaincy may be a way of providing spiritual care, providing a stepping stone that will enable more individuals to maximise their health potential by the integration of body, mind and spirit. And in a way will be closing the care gap – taking spiritual care full circle – to where Grainger Westberg began.

Debbie Hodge, 28/03/2007