OTTERBURNE, MB – Providence Seminary provides the opportunity to pursue graduate studies in Chaplaincy / Spiritual Care as part of a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree. Working with practitioners in the field, the program has welcomed Hank Dixon, Gloria Woodland and Kathleen Rempel Boschman as adjunct faculty who have long-standing careers overseeing chaplaincy programs within prisons, hospitals and personal care homes.
Providence’s new program offering started out of a desire to help fill the shortage of well-trained spiritual care providers in the healthcare sector in Manitoba and in Canada following the pandemic.
“The intensity of COVID-19 caused a lot of people in healthcare to leave and pursue other opportunities. During that two-and-a-half-year period, I had a 30% vacancy rate,” says Kathleen Rempel Boschman, Professional Lead of Spiritual Health Services at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA). “Many spiritual care providers left due to burnout or because of in-person visitor restrictions. Many patients were lying in their bed in their loneliness, dealing with anger, fear and sadness without the usual support of family and friends.”
COVID had a significant impact on the spiritual and emotional health of patients. Chaplains and spiritual care providers came up with creative ways beyond visiting, listening and counselling to help facilitate points of meaningful connection. Rempel Boschman shared that, at the WRHA, they responded to patient distress by purchasing iPads and virtually connecting patients with families.
Spiritual care providers (or spiritual health practitioners) are valuable members in a healthcare setting providing support and counselling to patients receiving a new diagnosis or learning to live with a chronic illness or trying to cope with end-of-life challenges. They are more than compassionate listeners or companions to people. They skillfully facilitate internal and external sources of resilience, stress management, hope, and meaning and purpose in life. They also help patients and families find peace in the face of circumstances that are beyond their control.
Rempel Boschman started her healthcare career in physiotherapy which led to a lifelong vocation in ‘Spiritual Care’ after earning her Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry and Pastoral Counselling at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. She remembers the pivotal moments that motivated her to shift career paths.
“I was always so drawn to listening to people’s stories. Even as a physiotherapist, as I was accessing patients’ physical health, I was always interested in learning how their illness or injury was also impacting their life as a whole; how it impacted their ability to earn a living.”
The earliest memories that influenced her calling into chaplaincy and spiritual care include her father who enlisted in the Armed Forces as a medic. He died at the age of 42, leaving behind his wife and five children. Even though Rempel Boschman was only three-years old at the time, she remembers the emotional and financial toll on her family.
She was also influenced by her church family which included doctors and nurses. “I remember sitting in church always wondering if Doctor Fraser’s pager was going to go off. Because it would. He’d wait a minute, and then, slowly get up to leave and we all knew that somebody’s life depended on him leaving.”
But, most profoundly, she was influenced by the stories in the Bible of Jesus who spent a significant portion of His ministry in the healing of the sick and broken.
Now, more than 30 years later, after a few years in pastoral ministry with her husband, and 20-years as the Director of Spiritual Care at Concordia Hospital, Rempel Boschman is retiring in December as the WRHA’s Professional Lead of Spiritual Health Services. She plans to do some teaching and work occasionally with Winnipeg hospitals conducting patient visits.
Beginning on January 8, 2024, Rempel Boschman is teaching an online course at Providence called Topics in Spiritual Care: Introduction to Health Care Chaplaincy. It is open to graduate students who are pursuing a master’s degree as well as the general public who are interested in auditing a course to see if chaplaincy is a potential fit for them. (The course registration deadline is December 25th.)
Chaplaincy / Spiritual Care is thought of as more than a career or vocational choice, it is considered a calling. “Individuals interested in this field need maturity of character,” Rempel Boschman confides. “It doesn’t matter so much if you’re introverted or extroverted. The main question is: Do you love people? No matter their background, faith, nationality, sexual orientation or age. Do you love like God does?”
Some of the things you can anticipate in the January course offering are studying core competencies, tools, assessments and interventions for chaplains which include theories of grief and loss, narrative therapy, and dignity therapy as well as learning best practices for interfaith healthcare, spiritual diagnosis, active listening and mindfulness.
“Chaplains and spiritual care providers are often called to be with people, either in acute illnesses or chronic illnesses, at end of life or in bereavement. Ultimately, we want to bring whole person-centered care to patients and families and provide them with a sense of peace, calm, dignity, meaning and purpose in life.”
Photo: Kathleen Rempel Boschman