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Holistic Spiritual Care During Medical Crises

By Kristen Joseph

The role of a chaplain is often misunderstood and ill-defined to those who find themselves in a crisis situation during which a chaplain’s presence would be of the most help. According to Rev. John E. Skanse, a retired chaplain, this is in large part due to the lack of common definitions among the chaplain community for the terms that they frequently use to describe their work. He says that they speak their own “chaplain language,” but he endeavors to change that and make the concept and the importance of chaplaincy accessible with his new book, A Chaplain’s Expertise: A New Paradigm.

With over 20 years of experience as a chaplain and spiritual counselor, Rev. Skanse believes that it is imperative that the “language of chaplaincy” shifts so that the field can be easily explained to patients, medical staff, other clergy, and the general public –– all of whom might benefit from a chaplain’s services.

Contrary to popular belief, a chaplain’s role is not only to provide last rites as a person nears the end of their life or perform strictly Christian religious services within hospitals. The role of the chaplain is to uplift the patient, family, and anyone involved in a difficult medical situation, to give them some measure of hope in the face of uncertainty –– whether that be done through spiritual advice, religious service, emotional counseling, or simply a physical presence. Rev. Skanse’s book endeavors to explain this, along with the complexities of the field, using common terminology that can be understood by everyone.

In the preface to his book, Rev. Skanse includes an excerpt from an article he wrote for a magazine in 2009. A woman who was both blind and deaf had suffered a fall that would likely leave her bedridden for the rest of her life. She wished to die because she felt that she was just a burden to her husband, and her husband couldn’t think of a way to express his love to her without her sight or hearing, so he chose to guard her hospital room. Chaplain Skanse took her hand and showed both her and her husband the power of mere human touch and presence. While holding the Chaplain’s hand she cried, grieving for her losses. And then she smiled, and exclaimed that she was “’… holding the hand of God.’”

Rev. Skanse says it best: “’Chaplains are present to ‘be’ with people, touching their lives, in the midst of stress and crisis with a hand that speaks of there being more to life than just those biological processes that so easily can get messed up with illness and lost in death.’”

The presence of a chaplain during a crucial and stressful time can change the trajectory of a person’s life for the better. Rev. Skanse’s A Chaplain’s Expertise: A New Paradigm is a terrific resource for those acquainted with the medical field, patients in need of guidance, or for anyone who wishes to learn more about the positive impacts of chaplaincy. Available in paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon, A Chaplain’s Expertise: A New Paradigm can open your eyes to a valuable resource you never knew was available to you.

Chaplain John E. Skanse has a B.A. in Christian Education, a certificate from the Evangelical Teacher Training Association, and an M.Div in Pastoral Care with a focus on counseling, in addition to many other certifications and qualifications. After 30 years of pastoring, 20 of which he also spent as an Air Force Chaplain with the Illinois Air National Guard, he went on to spend four and half years as a Police Chaplain. He then became a Trauma/Emergency Staff Chaplain at Einstein Medical Center (EMC) and then chaplaincy palliative care coordinator. Chaplain Skanse retired in 2016 and began writing this work in an attempt to further flesh out concepts on chaplaincy he had first published in PlainViews.

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