The 10 Best Tips for Interfaith Dialogue

As a faith-based hospice, It’s as natural for us to pray with our patients as it is to care for their physical needs. Our hospice ministry is called to provide physical, emotional and spiritual comfort to anyone diagnosed with an advanced illness. We know the importance of understanding diverse relationships. We know the beauty of difference through scripture and our experiences. Therefore, we strive to seek knowledge that will improve our relationships with all walks of life. Through countless hours of service and continuing education, we discovered a challenge that might hold someone back from understanding different beliefs: How to start.

While attending the Kaufman Interfaith Institute‘s monthly lunch and learn, we recently discovered an incredible tool to explain the framework for a conversation with someone of a different religion. Read on to discover recommended guidelines for Safe space, Brave space and Sacred space:

The Frameworks for Interfaith Conversations: Guidelines

1) Dialogue, not debate
While engaging friendly (or unfriendly, as the case might be) debate has its place, it doesn’t tend to be in the realm of interfaith conversations. This is not to say that we don’t want folks to stand up for particular perspectives and deeply-held beliefs—absolutely do so! However, don’t do so merely for the sake of argument.
2) Use “I” statements
While it’s easy to slip into speaking in generalizations (e.g. “Catholics believe that,” “atheists think that,” etc.), it’s always good practice to keep statements anchored in concrete personal experience so we don’t accidentally say something that might very well be untrue of others’ personal experiences.
3) Step up/step back
Ever have a conversation among a group where the same few people speak up while the same few people sit quietly? Its good practice to be aware of this and to empower people to “step up” if they haven’t shared their own perspective, as well as to encourage folks to “step back” if they’ve had many opportunities to share.
4) Oops/ouch
Even though all of the frameworks provided for interfaith conversation avoid the possibility for anyone to feel hurt or personally offended, it happens! When it does, folks should feel free to say so (ouch), and the other party can have the opportunity to clarify meaning (oops).
5) Assume good intentions
In the spirit of guideline #4, it’s possible that someone might feel offended by what another person says when engaging interfaith conversation. Even so, it helps to assume good intentions. If someone chooses to attend an interfaith conversation with their free time, odds are it’s not because they have it out for anybody. Keeping this in mind brings an air of understanding to the conversation that will keep things civil and productive.
6) Controversy with civility
Think of this as a response to the common saying “agree to disagree.” When we agree to disagree, difference is not engaged and is instead dismissed—therefore, no learning actually occurs. Allowing controversy with civility means that opposing viewpoints can be engaged respectfully as means to learning from one another.
7) Own your intentions and your impact
While we do expect people to assume good intentions, that doesn’t mean we should disregard the fact that what we say has an impact. For example, if a cisgender person honestly shares that they don’t understand how anyone can be transgender, this remark would indeed have an impact on a transgender person. Own the good intention, and own the impact it will still have on others.
8) Examine “challenge by choice”
“Challenge by choice” is the idea that participants can choose if, and to what extent, they will participate in a given activity. That’s a good idea! However, we don’t think the reasons someone might choose to abstain from a particular conversation should go unnoticed. If there’s an interfaith conversation on, say, the #blacklivesmatter movement and you find yourself sitting quietly—why do you think that is? Think about how you can learn from these types of moments.
9) Examine “be respectful”
This whole “examination” thing is pretty hip. In this case, we still want folks to be respectful of one another (of course, right?). “Respect,” though, can mean different things to different people! Let’s not just glaze over the command to be respectful, but take a moment to ask ourselves what that actually looks like. Ask participants, “When people are being respectful of one another, what is happening specifically?”
10) Offer reminders during moments of challenge
If and when tensions do get high and it feels like the conversation is taking a turn, remind participants of the space that was agreed upon before the conversation began. There’s no shame in saying, “Let’s hit the pause button for a moment and take some time to remind ourselves of the guidelines.” In a make-or-break moment of conversation, doing this allows the room to take a breath and forge ahead with both bravery and sensitivity.

Thank you Kaufman Interfaith Institute for bringing this conversation to West Michigan!
 This framework was created by the Interfaith Youth Core and based on a book “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice” by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens.

Hospice Music Therapy

By Miranda Eden, MT-BC

As a Music Therapist relatively new to hospice care, I am truly enjoying the unique experiences I have on a daily basis. Music can comfort us, it can motivate us, assist with pain management, and open the door to reflection or communication. Music can impact many stages of life, e.g. the music of childhood days, the music played as we came of age, and the many memorable events to which a song can take us. But, “What exactly do you do?” is the question I hear most often, and the one that I will never grow tired of answering. I hope the following examples provide enlightenment into the world of Hospice Music Therapy.

One day, I knocked on the door and met Mr. Smith, who was sitting in a chair looking out the window. I introduced myself. He immediately began to speak of his country music background and his love of Hank Williams. I picked up my guitar and sang several popular country songs of the 40’s and 50’s. He laughed out loud, surprised that a “young gal would know all that old stuff.” We reflected together as he spoke of family, friends, and the good times this music brought back to him. At the end of our first session he said, “You know, I used to sing, and I always wanted to make a record.” At our next meeting, Mr. Smith was surprised when I requested that he join me in some vocal warm-ups and breathing exercises in preparation for his first recording session. After practicing his favorite Hank Williams song several times, and with much encouragement, we were finished. He had successfully recorded “You’re Cheatin Heart.” As he listened to the recording, he became tearful and expressed his excitement at being able to share this with his family. He was so proud of his accomplishment. I returned two days later to deliver the CD. His family was surrounding his bed, and Mr. Smith was actively passing and unable to communicate. I suggested that the family listen to his newly-recorded Hank Williams song. They quietly listened. The recording of his soft singing voice filled the room at a time when he could no longer speak. He comforted them with his song and left a priceless gift.

On another occasion I was privileged to sing a patient’s favorite song with her daughter, a phone on her pillow as her daughter sang from another state. I have been honored to play hymns on a harp through a thundering storm while a patient was actively passing with the family at the bedside. I felt rewarded the day I was able to comfort a confused patient with the reassurance of her wedding song. Always, a song that opened up a small door of communication with her spouse who was constantly at her side.

Hospice Music Therapy has given a voice to many and brought comfort to not only the patient but also the family members who commit so much of their time, love and patience during this transition.
In my 15 years of clinical work, I have come to identify music therapy not as my career, but as my vocation.

To learn more about Music Therapy from Emmanuel Hospice, call 616.719.0919 or fill out our contact form here.

The "Heart" of Emmanuel Hospice

Our volunteers are the essence of the hospice philosophy of care that centers on bringing comfort, dignity and tranquility to the dying and their loved ones. As National Volunteer Week comes to a close, we would like to recognize three of our many “big hearts.” Read below as they share their journey as an Emmanuel Hospice volunteer.

Kelly Williams, MSW
My name is, Kelly, and I have been volunteering for Emmanuel Hospice for almost two years.  I’ve spent the majority of my efforts providing companionship, respite, and vigil services for patients and their families, but I am also a member of the bereavement team.  I spend personal time outdoors having bonfires or in my Kentwood home watching movies with my wonderfully supportive family members who are my husband Zack, and our two cats, Baby Boy, and Isis.  I came to volunteer for Emmanuel Hospice not only because I fully support the hospice philosophy of care, but because I felt called to care for the dying and their families at the end of life.   The thing about volunteering that brings me the most joy is the ability to provide comfort to those in need.  Support is provided with something as simple as a gentle touch, or even a smile in the midst of suffering. Volunteering for Emmanuel Hospice provides my life with a lot of meaning, and it continues to be my privilege to provide patient, family, and bereavement care.

Pat Jennings
I am a hospice volunteer and function as a companion to hospice patients.  I worked in nursing for many years in doctors offices and at Blodgett Hospital.  I have been married for 48 years, and we have 4 children and 12 grandchildren. I have been a hospice volunteer for one year.
I have a long history of volunteering and Sr. Gabrielle at St Ann’s Home called me over a year ago and invited me to join the team. I started in training in the next class. I love being a hospice volunteer and have met so many wonderful people, and I love listening to their stories.  I believe I get much more than I give.

Deb Ferguson
I have been a volunteer with Emmanual Hospice for less than a year, but this year will mark 42 years in the health care field as a medical assistant and nurse. My greatest joys are my sons Sean and Erik who along with their friends keep me young!
As a former hospice nurse, I always wanted to volunteer someday and when Emmanual Hospice evolved I knew it was time to serve. The headquarters, which is at St. Anne’s Home, is near and dear to my heart. How can you say no to Sr. Gabriela?
I find joy in hospice volunteer service, as it is an honor to walk with patients and their loved ones in the circle of life – providing compassion, support and a more gentle way of providing services. I remain grounded in how precious life is each time I speak with a patient or loved one in our care.

The Important Role a Social Worker Plays at Emmanuel Hospice

No two days are alike for Katie VanRyn. She might spend a morning helping one family apply for a handicapped hang tag for their van. She might then assist another family fill in aid applications to secure financial assistance to defray the cost of care. Or she may spend an afternoon looking at funeral homes, pricing the difference between cremation and burial.

That’s all in a day’s work for VanRyn, a social worker with Emmanuel Hospice, who helps patients and families navigate crucial end-of-life issues.

“My role in working with patients is to focus on their psychosocial needs,” VanRyn explains. “It may be in the form of counseling patients and families, making referrals or connecting them to resources. If they need to move – either to a facility where they can receive greater care or back into their home – I help facilitate that.

“I can also help families have those difficult but necessary end-of-life discussions. I can talk with them about funeral arrangements, advance directives or how they want to spend their final days, giving them a chance to make their wishes known.”

Vern Bareman knows that Katie and her social work colleagues at Emmanuel Hospice play an integral role in the care process.

“Every family is different,” says Bareman, director of psychosocial services. “The social worker really helps guide the family dynamics as we go through the very difficult transitional period with people at the end-of-life.

“Our team is well-versed in end-of-life care, from understanding insurance regulations to providing counseling to navigating funeral arrangements. There is a broad range of things that patients don’t think about on a day-to-day basis. Our social workers can step in with a huge wealth of knowledge to share.”

VanRyn and her colleagues bring that knowledge to the interdisciplinary patient care teams at Emmanuel Hospice, which also include medical professionals and spiritual caregivers. Bareman likens this trio to a three-legged stool; without the social workers, the stool would topple over.

Yet patients and families don’t always see the need for a social worker. While the role of the nurse or doctor or chaplain is pretty clear, VanRyn says she often gets a lot of questions about why she’s at the bedside.

“Families are not required to have a social worker as part of their hospice team, and some do decline our services,” VanRyn said. “We still offer our support to the nurse who is part of the team, and often we will get a call in a few days or weeks asking us to step in after all.

“Of course, I prefer to be part of the process from the very first meeting. This allows the family to have a discussion upfront about what the needs are. Depending on those needs, I might back out for a bit and, when things are getting closer to the end, I can step back in.”

As part of her initial assessment, VanRyn asks the patients about their interests and hobbies. She notes that as patients get closer to death, they have less energy. Identifying what gives them joy allows VanRyn to help patients conserve their energy so they can focus on those pursuits with the time they have left.

VanRyn and her colleagues have helped patients take a final trip to a Lake Michigan beach, a casino, a family cabin, and a family wedding. Sometimes the wishes are simpler: Facilitating a Skype call with a long-distance friend or arranging a lunch visit with family.

Bareman notes that having a social worker on the team can break down barriers within the family.

“Sometimes patients want to put up a brave front for their families,” Bareman says. “When they are alone with the social worker, though, they open up and say, ‘I am ready to go, but I need to stay strong for my spouse.’ The social worker has a way of allowing them open up, and then facilitating conversations with the rest of the family.”

In fact, setting the table so that those conversations can take place is one of VanRyn’s favorite parts of her job.

“One of the most rewarding things I get to do is to help educate families and facilitate conversations,” she says. “As a social worker, I can encourage a conversation between patients and families. If they are unsettled about dying and not comfortable talking about it, I can ask questions that may prompt a discussion after I leave.

“If people can talk ahead of time about their advanced directives and funeral planning, it is so much easier. These are hard conversations to have, and some people just don’t want to have them. It’s admitting they are dying. But if they can get that piece out of the way, then can then focus on living.”

What Services Does Hospice Provide?

Hospices offer end-of-life care for patients suffering from terminal disease or advanced age. Providing patient and family support, hospices look after individuals in their home or in a hospice facility, where they receive care from nurses, staff and volunteers.
General Services

  • Hospice provides general services that include medical care, therapy and daily task assistance. Nurses give direct medical care to all hospice patients and act as liaisons between patients and their primary physicians. Psychologists and other trained staff assist with speech, occupational or other forms of therapy for the patients. Individuals also may receive daily task assistance from volunteers and staff, including bathing,  dressing and eating.

In-home Care

  • Some patients reaching the end of their life choose to stay at home rather than enter a facility or hospital, and enlist the assistance of a hospice nurse to provide care as needed. While nurses may follow a set visitation  schedule, they are available on a 24-hour basis in case of emergency or other need. If a patient’s situation worsens or the family is unable to provide adequate support, hospice offers temporary care and patient housing within a hospice facility.

Facility Care

  • Nurses in hospice facilities care directly for each patient on a 24-hour basis.  They monitor vital signs, provide medications and alert family members to changes in care as well as the patient’s condition and recommended treatment. They also act as a liaison between the patient’s primary physician and the family. Physicians visit hospice facilities as needed or on a schedule. Volunteers assist the hospice nurses in providing company  for the patients, assisting with home care or providing professional services as needed.

Family and Loved Ones Support

  • Not only does hospice provide support service for the terminally ill or others  reaching the end of their life, but it also supports and cares for family  and friends. For example, hospice offers bereavement and grief counseling for those affected by the loss of a loved one. This includes psychologist or volunteer meetings, in-home checkups on a grieving individual, or occasional phone calls or emails to ensure the individual copes with the loss in a healthy manner. In some cases, social workers evaluate a patient’s case to determine the best living scenario depending on family dynamics or financial situation.