Spiritual Care Department Offers Comfort for Patients of All Faiths (or None)

Woman looking out at the sunset above the ocean
Pictured: "We're here not only for people of many faith traditions but also people who express their spirituality in a variety of other ways. Some people go out into nature. Many say, 'My spirituality is in going to the ocean or meditating.'"

Words can make us feel uncomfortable or welcome. That's why Roswell Park's Pastoral Care Department has adopted a new name — the Spiritual Care Department — to better reflect the support it provides to patients and families of all faiths (or none).

While pastoral care is usually associated with Christianity, "spiritual care is a broader term," says Beth Lenegan, PhD, Director of Spiritual Care. "We want patients to know that we're here not only for people of many faith traditions but also people who express their spirituality in a variety of other ways.

"Some people go out into nature. Some listen to music. Many people say, 'My spirituality is in going to the ocean or meditating.' That's how they connect with something beyond themselves. For some people that's God, for others it's a power they can't identify, but everyone has a spirituality."

The department's name change is especially appropriate because today about one-fourth of Americans do not identify with a religion. That's the case with Roswell Park patient Michaela Pastorius. "I wasn't raised in a family that identified strongly with one religion," she says, "and until my diagnosis, I couldn't connect with my spirituality, either.

"If someone walked in and said, 'I'm from Pastoral Care,' I would have thought, I don't belong in that group." But Spiritual Care? "I think that's absolutely great."

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"Our patients are from all different walks of life and different understandings of spirituality. We want to help them express their beliefs, not impose ours on them," says Lenegan.

Every inpatient is visited by a member of the Spiritual Care team after admission to the hospital. "Most of them identify their belief system at that time, and they're asked if they would like us to make future visits. Very few people tell us not to visit, but if they do, we don't go back."

In addition to Dr. Lenegan, the Spiritual Care team includes one full-time and three-part time chaplains, including a Seventh-Day Adventist, a Baptist, a Roman Catholic priest, and a nondenominational pastor, as well as 32 consultants and 60 volunteers representing Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, the Native American community and many other traditions. The volunteers and consultants are available to Roswell Park patients who request a visit.

Says Lenegan, "No matter what their background, we're here to bring comfort to our patients and families at this time of crisis in their life."

The hospital's nondenominational prayer and meditation room, located on the first floor of the hospital, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for people of all faiths. Muslim prayer is held in the room on Fridays, Catholic Mass on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the room is available to other faiths as well. The department provides prayer rugs for Muslims, rosaries and religious medals for Catholics, Bibles in several different languages and other accoutrements of faith.