A Vision of Interfaith Spiritual Care

by Rev. Gina Rose Halpern, D.Min.

July 2008

Rev. Dr. Gina Rose Halpern

Recently Chaplain Evan Ardley, Director of Spiritual Care for Hospice by the Bay in San Francisco, asked me to give a talk on my vision of Interfaith Chaplaincy in health care today. The following essay combines my remarks for Hospice by the Bay with some reflections on interfaith theology.

Health care systems are like microcosms of our communities and our world. In health care, people with diverse backgrounds, cultures, and educational experiences may be thrown together in moments of distress or grief over a diagnosis, an accident, a death, or even a celebration such as a birth.

Chaplains are as essential to patient care and family support as are doctors, social workers and nurses. Today in hospice and palliative care, chaplains often work as part of a care team, weaving together their various skills and talents to support the individual as well as the person’s family and friends.

Artwork by Rev. Dr. Gina Rose Halpern

How can we use skillful means in containing our sorrows and hold our grief so that we can still function in the world?

Someone said at the recent Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) Conference, “Chaplains are translators of tears.” We have been called to a remarkable profession. We are called to translate the language of suffering, both spoken and unspoken. We are called to be present at the most difficult moments of grief and anguish, with people whose lives and cultures may be totally different from ours.

As part of health care teams, chaplains bring our special gifts of understanding, translation, and willing companioning of the situation.When we hold a place of openness and welcome in our hearts for faiths different from our own, this inclusive spirit has ripples of influence as a force of healing. These ripples move out from the hospital or hospice room into the greater world.

We are prisms, receiving light from a great Source, passing it through our being, then transforming it into rainbows. This is the work of interfaith chaplaincy—to recognize that every color of the rainbow comes from the Source of Light. For a rainbow to be whole, all the colors are needed.

The next time you are having a bad day—when you have lost a patient, struggled within a broken healthcare system, or confronted an area of disagreement with a friend or a peer—try to remember a particular life that was nourished by your presence. Recall a moment when you tenderly offered “food for the soul” to someone facing a moment of despair.

May you continue to be a blessing to those you serve.

May you remember the calling that inspired you to set foot on the path of spiritual service—weaving that remembrance of calling back into your work as a support for the dry times, the sad times, the tired times.

And may you be a blessing to your own precious life as well, so that you can continue to thrive in your chosen profession and your interfaith spiritual path.

Rev. Dr. Gina Rose Halpern is the founder of The Chaplaincy Institute.