Pagan Healthcare Support Network


Visiting a Pagan in hospital?

This leaflet has been written for people visiting Pagans in hospitals, hospices or nursing homes. The author is a Pagan and health professional with more than 20 years’ experience in the National Health Service.

Our faith should be one of harmony and balance, where (regardless of path followed) we should aim live in harmony with ourselves and our surroundings. Bearing this in mind should we aim to live our lives helping each other as opposed wandering down a self cantered road governed by politics, money or greed? While this may seem like an ideal and many would suggest an almost impossible utopian dream, we can at least do something by helping fellow pagans at low points in their life. Ask yourself this; Have you ever been unfortunate enough to have been in hospital and met with 'Pagan, what's that?' Or even been in the ward when the Christian minister came in to do their rounds or to give someone communion and thought to yourself 'I'd really like it if someone could do that for me? Well the answer is they can, or certainly will be able to with your help. Interested? Then read on...

Being in hospital can be quite an ordeal at the best of times, not just from the (obviously) physical perspective, but from a psychological and spiritual one as well. Now and again, if someone is very lucky, there might be a fellow Pagan or Pagan friendly person on the ward, but more often than not they will be faced with the healthcare staff knowing little or nothing about their specific needs, wishes and desires. Indeed, we have heard cases where healthcare staff have (with the best of intention, we're sure) suggested that maybe a Christian minister could pay them a visit. This situation is obviously unacceptable and can often lead to a feeling of isolation and even rejection, particularly if someone is not lucky enough to have friends and family who can help. Where things become particularly heightened is around our sabbats and "other" sacred times and festivals. Facing this situation you could be forgiven for thinking that the healthcare staff are neglecting the myriad needs of this particular 'client group'. However, within our so-called 'multi faith society', the issue is not so much of neglect, but more a case of simply not knowing. Over recent years the subject of the total needs of the person has actually received much attention from within healthcare. However, understanding the link between healthcare and spirituality is still very much in its infancy and the various professions rely heavily on information being provided by spiritual and religious groups that currently exist. Currently there exists a huge gap in healthcare research to explore and gain a better understanding regarding the total needs of the person from a humanist/existential perspective.

Both I and my wife have been involved in healthcare for many years and as our beliefs are pagan we have often discussed how things could be improved. My background as a nurse/lecturer and healthcare researcher and my wife's as a nursing auxiliary in the past has allowed us to see from the inside where things could be improved for the pagan community. This coupled with our interest in the spiritual needs of the person have led us to the point we face today. As a result of our position and thinking on the subject we were approached by the PF last year to take on the role of Hospital visiting managers. After much discussion we decided to take on this role with the help of the PF to put together a system of help and support for pagans undergoing any adverse health situation in both hospital and the community.

With this in mind, and after much discussion with Pagan friends who have been through the healthcare system as both patients and staff, we began to plan out the kind of service we thought might help address the needs of the pagan community and the kind of service we would like to see being provided. Our philosophy for this service is simple; we aim to provide a system of help and support for those who need it be that in hospital or home. We do not consider ourselves as experts on the subject and we believe that any service provided should have the input of all concerned. We aim to provide a service that encompasses hospitals, hospices, care homes, the community and the person's home environment. Whilst we are primarily concentrating on the hospital visiting aspect, eventually we aim to broaden the scope of the service to provide a person focused support network for Pagans undergoing any adverse health situation, life crisis or feelings of isolation. This would include:

  • Temporary ill health
  • Long term and/or terminal illness
  • Convalescence
  • Bereavement
  • Disability
  • Community isolation

To explain the kind of support we aim to eventually provide and the way in which we hope to provide it, we have categorised the areas which we aim to cover...

Hospital/Hospice visiting.

Initially our aim is to achieve a high quality befriending and ministerial service for the pagan community in a healthcare setting. The service will be provided by Pagans for Pagans using a 2 tier network:

1. Visitors or be-frienders.

      These would be volunteers who are willing and available to go in to the hospitals/hospices on the request of Pagans in hospital in order to offer moral support, a friendly ear or a like mind etc.


2. Pagan Ministry.

    These would again be volunteers who by virtue of their path/training would minister to the spiritual needs of individuals, through ritual, meditation etc.

Due to the diverse paths of Paganism it is felt that conducted rituals should be generalised as opposed to being path specific, so that common ground will be held. This should make to role of ministering less complicated as the minister need not be of the same path as the individual.

To achieve this we aim to initially provide information for healthcare professionals and existing hospital ministry about Paganism as a faith in today's society. This information together with the Pagan ministers would then eventually become part of and liaise with the multi faith ministry in hospitals and hospices in the various healthcare trusts. This will hopefully begin to provide Pagans with support and the ability to have spiritual comfort and aid while facing their own specific problems.

Residential/care home visiting.

By educating both community healthcare trusts and social services together with staff in the various community care facilities about Paganism and liaising with them in the same way as for the hospital visiting, we hope to be able to provide the same level of support as for that of the hospital ministry as outlined above. This will hopefully cater for the growing elderly Pagan population who are living in this setting.

Community visiting/befriending.

As with the hospital visiting the community aspect will encompass a high quality befriending and ministerial service for the pagan community. The service will run using the same 2 tier network as outlined previously:

1. Visitors or be-frienders.

      These again would be volunteers who are willing and available to go into the care homes and hopefully peoples own homes again at the request of the person needing help to offer moral support, a friendly ear or a like mind etc. However, eventually we would also like to be able a 'handy-man' scheme, where volunteers could help out around the persons home or garden, where ill health would prevent that person from being to do the things themselves. These could include things like gardening, odd jobs to help out.


2. Pagan Ministry.

    Again as with the hospital ministry volunteers who by virtue of their path/training would be able to minister to the spiritual needs of individuals, through ritual, meditation etc.

It is hoped that the volunteers would ideally offer support to Pagans who are local to themselves who were housebound or not able to travel to Pagan gatherings, or who wanted to network with like minds but were unable to do so for what ever reasons. On request from social services or directly from the people who wanted to use this service, the volunteers would visit people in their own homes and the ability to take part in festivals or rituals, also in their own homes, would be provided if needed, by volunteers who were happy to do this.

Counselling

Eventually we also aim to have a bank of Pagans who are qualified counsellors, who would be able to provide professional Counselling to those Pagans who required it in a healthcare setting, in the community or for our volunteers.

THE HARD PART

We realise that this is not going to happen overnight and there is a lot of ground work to do, but there has to be a goal to aim for. To start with, we are tackling the area of Hospital/Hospice visiting by putting together an information package explaining Paganism to health care staff and the hospital ministry and informing them that there is going to be a network available to Pagan patients. We will start with the Hospitals that we already have covered by volunteers, but eventually, this will be sent to every hospital in the UK. Then, we hope to do the same with care homes and social services, unless an opportunity to do this arises sooner. To do this we need your help, after all we all have a duty to our fellow brothers and sisters.

The feedback we received from the talk I gave at the PF conference at Croydon in November 2003 was very positive and we would like to thank those who volunteered their services there and then. We would like to see at least the hospital visiting service up and running by the end of 2004. However, we are still in desperate need of more volunteers if we are to provide this service for the whole of the UK, even for the areas where we already have existing volunteers. It can be very rewarding knowing you are helping people, (especially when its fellow Pagans!) and if you have ever been an in-patient, as we have, I'm sure you are familiar with the scenario at the beginning of this article, so lets do something about it!. We are putting together a training session for volunteers which will be compulsory for all to attend it will cover issues such as confidentiality, handling sensitive information, ministering to the spiritual needs of an individual, support available to volunteers etc., so don't be put off by thinking 'I've never done anything like this before and I wouldn't know where to start' - most of us have visited someone at sometime before, even if it's not been in hospital, or because they are ill! There is support available for volunteers in the form of initial and on-going training, as well as us being on the end of a phone or a computer (whichever is easier for you). Please don't let your lack of confidence put you off, if you are friendly and a good listener, you can do this! Eventually the aim of the training will be on-going and we are currently working on creating a modular system of training where volunteers can opt into whatever areas they feel more suited to, like for example ministering to the dying, helping in and around the home, infectious diseases etc. etc. By doing this we will eventually be able to have highly skilled professional volunteers that can befriend and minister in a wide range of scenarios.

Hopefully, there will be people who will read or hear about this who would like to volunteer for visiting, ministry or counselling, (or a mixture of any of them!) and it is those people the service needs first and foremost, but there may be people who can help in other ways such as Nurses who would be able to take Pagan awareness training sessions into the hospitals where they work or some of you out there may be able to approach their local hospital or hospice to make them aware that a service is available. Others reading this may have a particular talent for ritual writing and have rituals for festivals or life rites which would cover any Pagan path, which they would be willing to share for the use of this service. Each volunteer in whatever capacity is a very valuable link in the service we hope to provide, so if you feel you would like to help in any way, have any suggestions, or would like more information, please contact either us or your local RC who will forward this information on. Let's get this service going and start to achieve the long term goal! not only is there a need for it, it will also show the mainstream religions that we're here, our numbers are as great as theirs and we are not going to go away and perhaps more importantly that we are highly moral and really do care!!

Written by
Mark and Lynda Elding

First published in Pagan Dawn

Attachments:
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