Spiritual Care – A Shared Endeavor

Project Director: Rev. Serge A. Castigliano, PhD Dates: April – September, 2016

The project is a six-month feasibility study whose purpose is to explore ways in which LSNYA can strengthen and enhance the chaplaincy/spiritual care programs and emphases in its member organizations. Its thesis is that spiritual care is an essential aspect of the care and healing missions of these social mission agencies. For twelve years, LSNYA has conducted Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) programs that serve as supplemental service support to agency chaplaincy/spiritual care programs. The study seeks to determine the receptivity of the agencies to an expanded and ongoing role for LSNYA in this area, through the development of periodic spiritual care service reviews, with an understanding that spiritual care is a common endeavor to be shared cooperatively among all LSNYA member organizations.


1. Is spiritual/pastoral care an easily identifiable service in the agency?
2. How is spiritual care understood/defined in each agency?
3. Do agency leaders perceive spiritual care to be part of the faith-based mission of the agency and an aspect of the roles and responsibility of all staff?
4. Are the agencies interested/willing to commit to periodic spiritual care focus reviews?


Given the strong forces of secularization in our society and culture, and related government funding polices that consistently exert financial pressures to reduce costs, the value and retention of quality chaplaincy/spiritual care is frequently threatened. The need is ever-present to make the case for adequate staffing, quality programs and to meet best practices standards set by professional organizations in the field.

Spiritual care has become an ambiguous term in our current cultural landscape—one that lends itself to multiple connotations. The term “pastoral,” which is significantly rooted in Christianity, has largely been eclipsed by the word “spiritual” in many, if not most, public terminologies. This change often conveys a sense that anyone can offer spiritual care, be a spiritual care provider, and that “spiritual” disregards religion or embraces all religions. The direction and intention of these changes in meaning arguably have some positive attributes going forward. They are not intrinsically ill-conceived, as they have significant corollaries with our emphasis on ministry of the laity—as well as ecumenical and even inter-faith interests.

Nevertheless, the term can be troublesome, especially if understood with “spiritualist” or excessive metaphysical, abstract and esoteric associations. Spiritual care, poorly understood, can become disembodied—an unearthly type of care that has migrated to supernatural arenas that are dangerously disassociated from compassionate human care and functional caregiving. Further, when understood solely in terms of compassionate

human care, especially when severely separated from any religious or divine associations, it loses some of its distinctiveness and can lead to a diminishment of the role of professionally trained chaplains and spiritual care givers.


Any effort at a definition is perhaps a fool’s errand. Nevertheless, the effort has potential benefit for this project. To this end, spiritual care is defined as relationally assisting persons to connect with the intrinsic forces of the compassionate, loving and hopeful human nature that is within them. It is caring for the human spirit, which is spiritual in nature and part of every human, and striving to align these intrinsic forces with the sources and forces of nature, creation and context—the realm of God or the divine, however named, —both within and outside them.

Spiritual care is understood as an activity that fosters the sharing of personal concerns for meaning, yearnings for hope, comfort, goodness, forgiveness, and faith struggles. These are all natural needs of every human, and sharing them in a safe, relational environment with competent, caring, and faithful spiritual care givers offers sacred spaces for grace and healing. Spiritual care is moored in listening—active listening to the joys and sorrows, the struggles of life, whatever they might be. It lives mostly in the realm of mercy, less in justice/advocacy. While rooted in active and relational listening, spiritual care can also include use of music, art, movement, sacred writings, meditation, ritual, sacraments, prayer, and theological/religious dialogue.

The spiritual dimension of life is activated when…

* We feel frightened, lonely, or anxious
* Someone close is dying, or has died
* We are asking God, “Why?”
* We have bad news, loss
* We feel like celebrating
* We want prayer, blessing, sacraments or other ritual
* We are struggling with meaning in life or in a given situation