Community Connections

Prayer Shawl

Chaplains may keep objects such as this prayer shawl to offer patients familiarity and comfort in adjusting to a new normal. These objects and education from community partners can help hospitals better serve patients that not fully represented on the chaplaincy staff.

Not all patients’ religious needs can be accommodated fully by the chaplains on staff at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, despite their best efforts. For instance, in 2017 the hospital had no imams or Muslim chaplains. Please visit the Pluralism Project website to read more about Muslim chaplaincy in the United States. Although some hospitals have chaplains from specific denominations to care for the ritual needs of the majority patient population, the relatively small number of chaplains from non-Christian religions in the United States has required most medical institutions to forge strong connections with outside religious organizations. These relationships with outside community organizations not only help to educate the hospital chaplains, but also enable them to offer services beyond what the hospital is usually capable of providing. Marni Schreiber, a former intern with the Spiritual Care Department at Allina Health, a large health care provider in Minnesota, discussed the crucial role that these community contacts play in serving religiously diverse patients.

One thing that I was really impressed with Allina and their CPE [Clinical Pastoral Education] program was their extensive list of community contacts. So for almost every religious organization in the Twin Cities, every sort of denomination and community, they have people they can contact with questions and people who can come in and interact with the patients. I think that there’s something, when you don’t belong to a specific faith group there are certain nuances that you, no matter how much you learn, can’t understand to the full extent that someone from the community can.
—Marni Schreiber

Though community connections provide an invaluable resource for chaplains, members of the clergy and other external religious leaders often lack the medical background, rigorous training, and education of hospital chaplains. While these community connections will always continue to be important, Schreiber hopes that an increase in the religious diversity and number of chaplains in the years to come will result in better patient care.