Peace Be With You, Rest In Peace: Using Scripture To Address Spiritual Distress At The End Of Life Open Access

Witty, Sue (Spring 2018)

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The contemporary image of the hospital chaplain is remarkably multifaceted: a minister with an interfaith approach; a member of an interdisciplinary team model who provides emotional/spiritual support to patients/families/staff while demonstrating sensitivity to multicultural and multifaith aspects in all encounters and visits; one who strives to convey a nonjudgmental affect while providing strong active/reflective listening skills to those in need. Additionally, chaplains minister to a veritable cornucopia of ailment or crisis situations, generally defaulting to a “ministry of presence” in any and all circumstances. And ultimately, they are expected to assist individuals and families face the reality of our own mortality in the midst of incredible medical developments.


This study acknowledges the benefits of this type of ministry, and engages it, but asserts that the standard chaplain “ministry of presence” at times proves insufficient in facilitating a direct confrontation with end-of-life anxieties/fears. In fact, there are occasions in which the “ministry of presence,” if that is all that is delivered, would be a ministerial disservice to certain individuals. Adults coping with a terminal cancer diagnosis who express specific spiritual beliefs benefit from chaplain visits in which the chaplain assumes a more assertive ministerial approach: utilizing Scripture to assist individuals in confronting their own mortality, thereby assuaging their spiritual distress. Additionally, a specific methodology should be employed whereby the chaplain is able to build rapport, glean an adequate sense of an individual’s personhood, and determine pivotal, appropriate Scripture passages that can optimally address one’s spiritual distress. This approach is specifically an individualized plan that draws from the Vanderbilt Revised Common Lectionary (although not exclusively) in order to honor given religious seasons while identifying, confronting, and ideally resolving an individual’s spiritual distress.

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