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Nursing Excellence

The Online Newsletter for Children's Nurses
e-Edition, Issue 7

The Meaning and Practice of Spiritual Care


Written By:
Rev. Michael Allen, M.Div.
Pr. Gilbert Barr-Dixon, M.Div.
Fr. Simon Howson, M.Div.
Rev. Joseph Laing, M.R.E., Ed.D.
Rev. Terry Rommereim, M.Div., Ph.D.

The young parents have driven for several hours and look tired, anxious and apprehensive. Their primary language is Spanish. Mom is holding her baby and Dad is seated nearby in one of the pre-op rooms in Day Surgery. With the assistance of a Spanish interpreter, the Hospital chaplain introduces himself and soon their gaze relaxes. Dad says, “We’re glad you’re here with us. Our son will have heart surgery and we ask for your prayer and blessing for our baby.” The chaplain is honored to provide emotional support, presence, prayer and blessing for the child and his parents. 

Later in the day the chaplain follows up with a child and parents in the PICU. Dad says, “The surgery went fine and our baby is getting good care from the doctor and nurse. Thank you for coming.” The chaplain concludes his visit by reminding the parents that spiritual support is available through Spiritual Services Department. 

Spiritual care is vital to the holistic care of children and adults. Spiritual Services believes that every human being has some kind of spirituality. This understanding comes from the Latin word, “spiritus” – which means to breathe. “Spiritus” is the root word for “inspire” (to breathe in) and conversely, the term “expire” means to breathe out. There are sad moments when someone on the medical team says, “The patient has expired.” Spirituality – “spiritus” – to breathe – is about that which is life-giving.  Spirituality is about that which gives a person meaning and purpose in life. Obviously, an infant or very young child does not have a full understanding of this, but older children and parents certainly can and in many cases do. Religion is the way people express their spirituality. Religion is expressed in many diverse ways around the globe. It is the duty of chaplains and chaplain aides to respect the many religious and spiritual preferences. When asked, they seek out those religious or spiritual leaders in the community who can meet the family’s needs. 

When the patient or family member requests a specific religious/spiritual ritual or service at Children’s, the care provider can support the family by calling their spiritual/religious leader when needed or by calling the Hospital chaplain to facilitate their needs. The Hospital views spiritual care as a vital part of providing health care. The chaplains complement and utilize community clergy, spiritual leaders and volunteer chaplain aides by joining their resources to assure that faith and hope continue to have a prominent place as healing resources to all people. 

Chaplains, spiritual leaders and volunteer chaplain aides provide time and that important space for patients, families and staff to verbalize some of their deepest and most profound fears and doubts. We share in their hopes, joys and sadness, whether bereavement or loss of health or self image. It is important to remind the patient and family of their life and identity outside the walls where they receive healing. We pray with them when desired and for them always.

Guilt and anger are commonly suffered emotions. “Why?” is the biggest question from patients, families and staff alike. Sitting in the moment with a family and helping them process their thoughts is very important. Likewise ten minutes of support to a physician or a bedside nurse can turn their day around and be re-energizing – heading off fatigue that can set in like a fog.  

“Why did God let this happen to me?” This is where the chaplain has to wrestle with the paradox of chaplaincy. Do we have the answers? No, but we can walk alongside people on their own personal journey, whether it be the parent of a child who has been abused, the family sitting at the bedside of their dying son, the RN distressed at yet another non-accidental trauma patient admitted. If variety be the spice of life, then the chaplain deals with a veritable chili! Humor, compassion, care, presence, rapport and facilitation skills are ministerial essentials for support of individuals who are our patients, families and staff. 

In Summary – chaplains:

  • Discuss questions of philosophy, theology, spirituality, human value and culture with individuals and on the ethics committee 
  • Advocate for the spiritual values, religious beliefs and emotional needs held by the patient, even when those values and beliefs are not those of the chaplain
  • Identify the patient’s spiritual and moral perspective as essential
  • Serve as liaisons to community, spiritual and religious leaders and resources
  • Assist the patient/family in mobilizing their resources of beliefs to progress toward healing
  • Meet accreditation expectations with the team
  • The Joint Commission states, “Patients have a fundamental right to considerate care that safeguards their personal dignity and respects their cultural, psychological, and spiritual values.” 1
  • Listen and support care providers as first responders to critical incidents at the bedside and to teams through Caregiver Case Review and team meetings

Spiritual care contributes to a healthy organizational culture. Hospital chaplains serve as integral members of health care teams as they care for patients, families, and staff members themselves who experience the blessings and challenges of patient care. Chaplains not only help staff members cope, but empower them to recognize the meaning and value of their work in new ways. Professional chaplains are skilled in eliciting stories that “evoke self understanding and creativity, and sometimes… bring light to the path we travel”.2, 3

Like the sun rising on Jacob in Genesis 32, God blesses this place as a place of healing, but also as place of opportunity, change and hope.4

Accessing a chaplain: A scheduled chaplain (in-house or on-call) is available through the Spiritual Services Office (X35308) or the hospital operator (0). Meditech Referral documentation is requested for all needs.



  2. Henry, L.G. & Henry, J.D. (1999) Reclaiming Soul in Health Care, Chicago:  Health Form, Inc. 52.
  4. The Holy Bible, New International Version (1984). International Bible Society.


In This Issue

A Walk On The Family Side

Patient Family Satisfaction

Family-Centered Medical Care

Family-Centered Communication

Nursing and Child Life

Spiritual Care


Family-Centered CARE

Pediatric Diabetes Care

Supporting Teens on Dialysis

Patient Satisfaction Comments