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About Sickkids
About SickKids

October 19, 2016

Spiritual and religious care and beyond: How the chaplaincy team cares for SickKids

By Tenney Loweth, Intern, Communications & Public Affairs

Spiritual Care Dept team photo
Here to offer spiritual, religious and emotional support is (left to right) Rabbi Ron Weiss, Jewish Chaplain; Michael Marshall; Ayman Al Taher, Inter-Faith Chaplain; Ani J. and Fred MacKay. Not pictured: Chandra Ram, staff chaplain.

If you stop by the Spiritual and Religious Care Department’s offices you’ll likely be wrapped up into inviting, jovial and light-hearted conversation complete with an offer of candy. They’re an inclusive and warm group of people who clearly enjoy working with each other and at SickKids. It’s a sign of their resiliency and dedication when you learn more about what their jobs entail – a lot of it is being there for families at the worst time of their lives. But other times their job is to bring out the best in people.

This week is Spiritual and Religious Care Awareness Week and we’re putting the spotlight on chaplains at SickKids to show the many ways they support patients, families and staff.

The team has a diverse portfolio, handling everything from crisis counselling to serving on hospital committees. Many staff members could tell you when they would seek a chaplain for support; when a patient or family requests religious presence or when religious concerns are brought up, for example. But the team members regularly work outside the scope of religious care.

Fred MacKay, Chaplaincy Team Supervisor, can recall many instances when families benefitted from simply speaking with him.

“Sometimes people just need to talk about something,” he says. “The average person wants to share, whether it’s good or bad. So there’s a lot of merit in having that release for the family.”

The team takes a proactive approach to helping everyone within the SickKids organization, whether the need is spiritual, religious or emotional. In addition to having a chaplain on-call 24/7, all units throughout the hospital are covered by a chaplain during regular hours where they can easily be reached for support.

Michael Marshall, Inter-Faith Chaplain, makes himself visible and available in areas including the critical care units. “I visit the intensive care units trying to find an opportune moment, if there is one, to meet a family,” he says. “Sometimes people make a request for something very clearly religious. Other times they are looking for some help in thinking through moral dilemmas and ethical questions.”  

Such questions aren’t an easy task, but they’re part of day-to-day work for the chaplains. To supplement in-person services (and provide an alternative if desired), the department has also been behind the establishment of sacred spaces within the hospital, available to everyone:

  • The Chapel, Room 1731, Atrium;
  • The recently relocated Muslim Prayer Room, Room 1730, Atrium (next to the chapel);
  • And the Multi-Faith Meditation Room, Room 2713, Atrium (opposite the Operating Room waiting room).

The rooms are designated for spiritual practice, prayer and contemplation and are open 24 hours a day.

Use of the spaces and growing interest at SickKids in activities like guided meditation is part of what led the team to develop to the Mindfulness Project. What began two years ago as a few sessions on the topic of being mindful has taken off and become a hospital-wide initiative that includes guest speakers and year-round courses. Awareness and participation has risen among staff but for the team, mindfulness has always been a guiding principle.  

“Our department has always been a part of the mindfulness model of care,” MacKay says. “Our training is about awareness and being present, not letting other things that are going on in the day cloud your mind and keeping your mind focused on what you’re doing.”

Through the Mindfulness Project, MacKay and the team hope to spread the ideas and practices of mindfulness and “change the culture of the hospital, one person at a time,” and it seems to be working.

The project “provides for staff a sense that they’re cared for here,” says Ani Jamyang Donma (Ani J.), Inter-Faith Chaplain, Mindfulness & Meditation. “Staff members need to feel that when they go on the front lines of health care and deal with very stressful situations, they are supported in what they do. The Mindfulness Project is a way we do that.”

And it goes beyond the walls of the hospital, MacKay adds. “It’s a way to improve yourself and be a better wife, husband, staff member, person, that’s what it’s about. Mindfulness helps everybody be a better version of themselves.”

SickKids is fortunate to have the strong support of the Spiritual and Religious Care Department. In good times and bad, their guidance is invaluable.

For more information, visit the Spiritual and Religious Care Department website.