Chaplain Keith Evans  
chaplain.evans@gmail.com

Do you believe there really is a need or place for chaplaincy or chaplains?  If there is, is the need only a perceived need for religious people or is chaplaincy supported by solid evidence?  If there is good information supporting chaplains, what makes chaplains a need for people?  Have you ever thought about this?

The Widening Gap from Organized Faith
Have you truly considered, "Why the need for Chaplains?"  The most current research compiled by the Barna Group (www.barna.org) note that 59% of 18-29 year olds with a Christian background have dropped out of attending a church regularly.  In 2015, Barna discovered that 25% of unchurched adults are skeptics of God's existence, labeling themselves as either agnostics or atheists.  This trend is more predominant in younger adults who are more educated, racially and ethnically diverse.  Across gender lines, females are noted as more religiously skeptical than males.  Barna states, "the three primary components that lead to disbelief in God's existence [by Skeptics] are 1) rejection of the Bible, 2) a lack of trust in the local church and 3) cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview."  This information has led the Barna Group to develop a "post-Christian metric" which looks at multi-dimensional factors to describe "the rich and variegated experience of spirituality and faith."  Spirituality is diverse and is being defined and expressed in many ways.  Anecdotal evidence should also note that this is also occurring throughout all the primary organized faiths: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, etc.

For ministers and chaplains, this data does not come as a surprise, but as a validation of the changing expressions of faith and spirituality in America as well as across the globe.  With this trend, I have found that the topic of spirituality may be the best place to begin a faith conversation.  In fact, it might even prove to be quite difficult to find anyone who would not accept the statement that "all humans are spiritual and possess a spirituality, whether everyone recognizes it or not."  If you look around and observe your friends, neighbors and co-workers, you will see individuals who are constantly in search for meaning and purpose in their lives and about situations they experience.  With so many of the population not active in a local church or organized faith community, there is a great need for effective soul care to be brought to them in their respective places of work, by their co-workers, friends, and even by professional, workplace chaplains.  Chaplains are uniquely qualified to bridge this growing gap in our society which has pushed back against organized religion yet still strives to find meaning and relevancy in their spiritual selves.

More Evidence for the Need of Chaplains
With more and more emphasis on spirituality, spirituality at work, and other faith and spirituality movements, there is becoming less and less individuals sitting in respected church pews on the Sabbath.  This has left a void on who or what becomes a person's spiritual director or mentor.  It also has left a misunderstanding of what soul care is and what soul care is not.

A definition of spirituality that I espouse and one that has also been widely received and accepted by most in healthcare chaplaincy was proposed by Dr. Christina Puchalski of the George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Health.  She states that, "Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred."  (Puchalski, 2014)  Others perceive that spirituality stems from one's inner consciousness and is the source behind the outward form of defined religious practices.  (Guillory, xi)  Religion is more strictly defined as how one's spirituality is practiced within a specific doctrinal or theological context.

In David G. Benner's text, "Care of Souls," Benner states, "The soul is the meeting poitn of the psychological and spiritual.  Its care must, by necessity, include both spiritual and psychological aspects."  In the past century there have been great strides in understanding the human psyche.  But at the same time, the 'experts' have tended to dissect the immaterial self of individuals and divide it up into distinct components (psychological-spiritual-emotional), with each one standing separate and without connection to another.  However, there is a growing understanding that this may not be the case.  In fact, a dichotomist view of man may have more merit in this context of soul care when you assess how individuals cope with crises in their lives.  Benner states that we should "understand soul as referring to the whole person, including the body, but with particular focus on the inner world of thinking, feeling, and wiling.  Care of souls can thus be understood as the care of persons in their totality." (Benner, 22)  If the public at large are not engaged in a local church of faith/spirituality community, then who assists them in their journey?  Most often, probably no one.

The work of psychologist Kenneth Pargament has been especially well-received within the medical field over the past several decades.  Pargament has written extensively on the psychology of an individual's resiliency based upon religion and spirituality as positive coping skills.  Pargament's behavioral theories and review of literature studies can easily be extrapolated to include individuals under any stress.  If you have a scientific tilt to your thinking, then Pargament's The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice (1977) will be a great resource for you.

Th same can be said of the enormous work of medical physician and researcher Harold Keonig.  Koenig's extensive work Spirituality and Health Research: Methods, Measurements, Statistics and Resources (2011) and Handbook of Spirituality and Health, 2nd edition (2012) are replete with many categories of scientific data reviews which support the role and impact of spirituality upon specific physical conditions and mental health issues.

Spirituality has been shown to help a person's overall resiliency after crisis and stress.  The 2011 Balboni Study noted that individuals who have spiritual and religious resources available to them during a time of crisis, such as critical life situation and nearing death itself, these patients actually incur less overall medical costs.  (Balboni, 2011)  This suggests that the individuals become less anxious and more emotional and psychologically relaxed therefore needing less medications and treatments.  When this occurs, the patient will often have a shorter length of stay!

A survey of the American Hospital Association's database noted a "significantly lower rates of hospital deaths and higher rates of hospice enrollment for patients cared for in hospitals that provided chaplaincy services compared to hospitals that did not." (Flannelly, 2012)  The study noted that the results "may be attributable to chaplain's assistance to patients and families in making decisions about care at the end-of-life, perhaps by aligning their values and wishes with actual treatment plans."  (Flannelly, p. 6)

Spirituality is vastly important to the resiliency and maintenance of emotional well-being and wholeness for individuals while religion is being opposed.  If this is true, then what or who is the best possible facilitator to assist those in need  From my perspective, the chaplain is the most reasonable bridge builder and available public clergy when much of the population does not belong to or attends a church on a regular basis.  For the multitude of people with spiritual needs and who are also in quest for their own deeper meaning and purpose of life, the well-equipped and skilled chaplain may well prove to be their spiritual mentor.

References:

Balboni Balboni, Tracy, et all, (2011) "Support of Cancer Patient's Spiritual Needs and Associations with Medical Care Costs at the End of Life" Cancer 117: 5383-5391
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3177963

Benner, David B.  Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel.  Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.

Koenig Koenig, Harold G.  Spirituality and Health Research: Methods, Measurements, Statistics and Resources.  West Conshohocken: Templeton Press, 2011.

Koenig, Harold G., Dana E. King, and Verna Benner Carson, Handbook of Spirituality and Health, 2nd edition.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Flannelly, Kevin J., et al.  "A National Study of Chaplaincy Services and End of Life Outcomes"  BMC Palliative Care 11, no. 10 (2012): 1, accessed September 1, 2013, http://biomedcentral.com/1472-684x/11/10.

Puchalski, Christina M, Robert Vitillo, Sharon K. Hull and Nancy Reller.  "Improving the Spiritual Dimension of Whole Person Care: Reaching National and International Consensus."  Journal of Palliative Medicine 17, no. 6, 2014: 642, accessed June 22, 2014, http://online.liebertpub.com.