Religion or spirituality?
As you are by now hopefully already aware I have begun to do a few hours a week as a chaplain at Dr Gray’s Hospital, Elgin. So far I am enjoying it.
Last week I was waiting to go into one of the side rooms to speak to a lady patient. One of the nurses was finishing giving some care to the lady and seeing me waiting he said to the lady “Are you religious?” “Not really” she said. As he left the nurse gave me an almost triumphant look!
What did the nurse mean by ‘religious’? Was it about going to church, or living life according to certain rules, or about prayer, or about something else?
As a hospital chaplain in a modern healthcare setting the role of chaplain is certainly understood as including quite a range of tasks. It certainly includes what most of us would probably narrowly define as ‘religious’ – that is to say helping people to cope with their illness in the context of the resources of faith and possibly active church involvement. But alongside that there is equally an emphasis on what many of us would simply label as pastoral care – careful listening and a willingness to be alongside people at a difficult time. But then there is also what is labelled in healthcare parlance as ‘spiritual’ – helping people to make sense of life’s purpose, their identity and their place in community. For many people who are ill, or who have someone close to them who is ill, these questions come to the fore – whether or not they are religious. And the chaplain is there to be with the person (if they wish it) and help them find their own answers with or without reference to religion.
As a chaplain I hope that patients and staff alike realise the question of ‘am I religious’ is by means the same as ‘might I find a chaplain of help?’