I attended, with many of you, the 6th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality. Both the formal presentations and the informal conversations that I was able to have with other attendees were rich in insights and responses to many of the things the scheduled speakers addressed. As those of you who attended will remember, the official conference hotel where most of us spent the evenings and early mornings was at a different location than the comfortable conference center, necessitating a ride on the bus.
I am writing this short response to my experiences during the ride both to the meetings and back to the hotel at the end of the conference day. I made it a point to sit down next to someone who I had never met. All the women that I arbitrarily sat down next to had a nametag that said Sister Betty, Sister Ruth, Sister Marjorie or another name that indicated their dedication to a belief or a church, although their work life brought them to serve in a retirement residence for a good part of their career. The only question I had asked them was “Tell me about your job.” As my profession has made me into a listener, I listened while they told me of their immediate concern.
Each had expressed with some emotion as they told me they feared the loss of their job. They explained that the person in charge had retired or was leaving within a few weeks. The new people taking over that managing position in each case seemed to be a recent graduate from a university where they majored in business. The new manager had told each one individually their concern that there was no financial measurement as to the productivity in regards to their daily activities. New management felt strongly that to run the residence efficiently that every service had to be financially viable.
I would not have been disturbed if only one person had told me this, however, I remember clearly that at least four told me similar stories. Each Sister was very frightened that their spiritual guidance, and their time spent listening to fears, uncertainties and emotional challenges of the residents might be eliminated because the new management doesn’t see this service as financially measurable.
The financial bottom line is important to keep an institution alive. Of course you can’t run and organization or facility without being diligent as to the finances involved. However, I strongly believe that attention must be paid to the quality of all the services offered. I am writing to encourage some words of support and hopefully this message might reach the eyes and ears of those in residence management. In my opinion, serving the deepest spiritual needs of those in each residence must be considered as vital and necessary as planning the meals and doing the laundry and other services that can be measured financially.
Let me repeat what Susan McFadden said in her article when she quoted Jane Thibault: “Seeing aging as a pilgrimage invites us to embrace all the experiences of the journey; the ones full of hopeful promise as well as the ones that force us to engage with the paradoxes of gain and loss, frailty and strength, love of life and readiness for death."
Editor’s Note by Nancy Gordon: Connie called me after the conference as she’d been mulling over what she heard and was concerned about the possible loss of spiritual care for older adults in a variety of settings. I encouraged her to write this blog. Do you have similar concerns? How do you document the value of the spiritual care that you provide? Do you have suggestions or wisdom to share for those who may be facing job loss due to these economic concerns? Please send your comments to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll gather them together for a follow-up blog.