By Eric J. Hall
From October 22 to 28 we recognize Pastoral Care Week, also known as Spiritual Care Week. As more people around the world come to recognize the importance of whole person care, we take note during this special week, now in its 32nd year, to celebrate those who provide this care through professional chaplaincy and pastoral counseling. These trained professionals minister to the needs of persons of all faiths or none. They provide this care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospices, nursing homes and military settings throughout the world. By celebrating the week we have the opportunity to recognize the important and often unrecognized work and healing gifts of pastoral care givers, be they clergy, chaplains, or volunteers.
This year’s theme is “Hospitality: Cultivating Inclusion.” Inclusion is practiced by many cultures and religions that welcome those in need from any and all cultures throughout the world. Hospitality as practiced by many cultures and religions breaks through walls of alienation and marginalization. By cultivating attitudes of inclusion, we let people know they are cared for as valuable members of the human family.
Some institutions celebrate the week with special events, conferences, ceremonies, open houses, lectures, and luncheons. With a variety of activities, the week helps promote chaplaincy departments and their services within the organization where they serve offering special education seminars or other events as they also maintain these chaplaincy practice responsibilities.
Health care chaplains observe the week in a variety of ways, such as displaying posters and other information in their organizations to hosting special education events for staff and sometimes even for their communities. Some larger organizations, such as the University of California Davis Medical Center, hold regional conferences to celebrate the achievements of the past year, identify the challenges, and create an opportunity for brainstorming.
This important week began in 1983 when the National Association of Catholic Chaplains passed a resolution to establish a National Pastoral care week in order to interpret and promote pastoral care, to honor and celebrate all practitioners of that care and to encourage continuing education with clergy, laity, and institutional employees regarding the value of pastoral care. By the 1990s enthusiasm spread across the country and into Canada and to other spiritual care associations. In 1995 the word National was dropped because it had become an international celebration providing an opportunity for chaplains and pastoral care counselors, educators and providers around the world to share their story.
A colleague who is a board certified health care chaplain said, “We as chaplains in health care are often invited by patients and family members to stand with them in sacred spaces at sacred times in their lives. We are there with them to witness the beginnings of the lives and the ending of lives. We stand with them and support them during some of the greatest joys and some of the greatest tragedies that life brings to any person.”