Sensitivity to Multi-faith Issues

A do-it-yourself workshop outline for chaplains and spiritual care-givers
Created by Sharon Grant & Paul McKenna

In recent years, Scarboro Missions has become involved in training chaplains in hospitals, correctional institutions, long-term care centres and other care environments. The particular contribution of Scarboro Missions to this training has been in the realm of multi-faith.

In more and more parts of the world, hospitals and correctional and care centres are becoming environments of multi-culture and multi-faith. In these environments, chaplains and spiritual care-givers often find themselves lacking adequate knowledge, information and skills.

There is so much to learn about other faiths – particularly about their customs, rituals, beliefs and practices in the realms of birth, maturity, marriage, illness and death.

Multicultural and multi-faith environments present us with a number of religious and cultural gifts. They also present us with a number of what could be called dilemmas, challenges and conflicts.

This workshop is designed to enable chaplains to struggle with these various dilemmas and challenges. The workshop could also be helpful to people who are not chaplains. For this reason, we have included some challenging scenarios that are found in the larger societal fabric e.g. interfaith marriage.

Here is a rough outline of the structure of this workshop. Please note that this is a do-it-yourself workshop – the goal is to enable people to facilitate this workshop themselves. So facilitators should feel free to change, adapt, extend or shorten the proposed program as appropriate to their context.

Steps for Workshop

  1. Welcome, introduction and outline of program (5 min.)
  2. Short presentation on how religious pluralism, multiculturalism and multi-faith are changing our society and are creating lots of gifts and challenges for all of us. (5 min.)
  3. Participants are invited to quietly and privately read all the multi-faith scenarios (see listing below). (12 minutes)
  4. Participants form into groups of 3 to 4 people. Each group struggles with one scenario. The given scenario may be chosen by the group or assigned by the facilitator (30 minutes)
  5. Report back from the groups and plenary discussion (20 min.)
  6. Evaluation (10 min.)

Multi-faith Scenarios (for use in Step 3 above)

Here follows a number of multi-faith scenarios, opportunities, and dilemmas that one may encounter in one’s chaplaincy work or in a pluralistic society.

  1. a) You are called in to minister to a dying patient. You learn she is Greek Orthodox. How would you minister to her? You are not a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.b) A man of the Baha’i faith is dying and asks for prayers. You are not a Baha’i. It is in the middle of the night and no one from his faith can be reached. How would you pray with him?
  2. A Buddhist patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital is dying. His family has asked that the body not be moved at death and that the family members be allowed to stay with the patient for 8 hours after death. They have already arranged for a Buddhist monk to come and chant during the time after death. How would you respond to their request? How would you relate to hospital staff on this issue? You know that the ICU beds are in great demand – and that other patients are listed to go there immediately. You are not a member of the Buddhist faith.
  3. A Muslim woman is dying of advanced cancer. Her blood count continues to drop. The family has asked for on-going transfusions, which are only a temporary solution. At this point the patient continues to bleed, and within hours another transfusion is necessary. The cancer is taking over. But a family member has expressed that they have an obligation according to their religion to provide blood for the patient – that blood is a symbol of life. The staff are feeling frustrated in what they see as wasting the blood on a patient who is actually dying, when it is much needed for others who can benefit from it. How can you minister to the family who feel this obligation from their religious beliefs? How would you deal with hospital staff in this regard? You are not a member of the Muslim faith.
  4. An Orthodox Jewish Rabbi is dying in the hospital as Passover approaches. The family is concerned that he will die during Passover. He does. They ask if they can light the candles and if they can stay with the body until Passover is over, which is a period of several days. How do you deal with this request? How would you deal with hospital staff on this issue? You are not a Jew.
  5. A Roman Catholic woman gives birth to a stillborn infant. The parents ask that the baby be baptized immediately. They express fear that their baby will not get to heaven if they don’t baptize it. What would you do as spiritual care provider? (Note: prior to the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, the Church taught that unbaptized babies would not go to heaven if they died. This Church teaching has changed but some traditionalist Catholics still hold to the previous teaching). You are not a Roman Catholic.
  6. You are referred to a woman patient on the cancer ward. She has just been told that her disease is progressing, and that there is nothing else that can be done for her. When you meet her, her husband is present, and together they tell you their story. She is Hindu and believes in the doctrines of karma and reincarnation. Her husband is Christian and believes in the Christian doctrines of salvation and eternal life with union with God. As a Christian, he believes that everyone will eventually be resurrected with Christ. As they talk about her death, the husband is struggling with how they will be re-united together in the afterlife with God. How do you minister to them? (Note: at issue here are two different understandings of salvation/enlightenment)
  7. A 23-year-old woman has just been in a car accident, and is brought to the Emergency Room of the hospital where she is pronounced dead. You are a non-Buddhist. As chaplain, you are called in to meet with the family. They tell you that three years ago she converted from Christianity (Baptist) to Buddhism. Her parents are devout Baptists and they have asked you to speak at her funeral where many of her Buddhist friends will be present. How would you console her parents and, in the presence of her Buddhist friends, how would you speak of the young woman’s conversion to Buddhism and the meaning to her of her Buddhist faith?
  8. You are called to provide ministry to a man who, in recent years, has learned that he is half-Aboriginal and is struggling with the pain and giftedness of being Native. How would you minister to him? You are non-Native.
  9. You, a chaplain, are called to provide ministry to a mixed-marriage couple (e.g. Hindu-Christian or Muslim-Jewish or Jewish-Christian) who are experiencing cultural and religious conflict as well as pressure from their families. The couple has just had their first child. Neither party has any intention of converting to the other’s religion and currently they are agonizing over the religious education/upbringing of their children. Right now, they are dealing with the decision of whether or not to have an initiation ritual for the baby. How would you work with this couple in terms of the above issues?
  10. Create a multi-faith prayer service. Make an outline of what you would include in the service.
  11. “As a Christian, I am struggling with how to fit these other religions into my Christian worldview. Since the Church teaches that Jesus is God’s full, final and definitive revelation, how am I to relate to these other faith traditions that are now my neighbours? How am I to understand them; how am I to honor them; can I partake of their gifts? — if so, how so?. How can I relate respectfully to these faiths, all the while remaining true to my own faith?”
  12. You are a Christian. Your daughter is going out with a Muslim and they are starting to talk about marriage. What are your feelings and other reactions to this potential marriage? How would you talk to your daughter about this?
  13. You are a Christian. Your son has joined a Buddhist group in the city. He no longer goes to church and no longer identifies himself as a Christian. In fact, he is currently considering being ordained a Buddhist monk. What are your feelings and other reactions to his development? How would you talk to your son about this?
  14. Recently, a Jewish family requested that when the patient (their relative) dies, the family be given all the blood that was drawn from the patient so it can be buried with the body. This would involve getting the blood back from the hospital lab. The family member states that the blood is part of the life-force of the person and they, the family, will not be at peace if they do not properly bury the blood with the body. How would you minister to this family? How would you relate to the hospital staff on this issue? You are non-Jew?
  15. A Hindu woman from Sri Lanka died in the hospital on a Friday afternoon. The family of 25 or so members was gathered at the death. They requested to stay with the body until it was picked up by the funeral home. There was a 48-hour delay in the funeral home’s ability to respond (because of social assistance issues to be sorted out). The nursing staff tried to be helpful by arranging for the family to stay with the body until 9:00 p.m. on the Friday. But they also informed the family that the body would have to be taken to the morgue after that. The family also wanted to see that the proper rites were performed around preparation of the body. What would you do? How would you deal with hospital security? How would you deal with the nursing staff? What would you tell the funeral director about how to handle the body? Would you pray with the family? If so, how? You are a non-Hindu.
  16. A hospital administrator meets with an Ojibwa elder who has spiritual care responsibilities at the hospital. The elder has requested the meeting because, according to new municipal fire regulations, the lighting of fires is banned in the hospital. Therefore no lighting of candles, incense or sweet grass. The elder feels very strongly about this issue – without the sweet grass ceremony and smudge, he or she cannot deliver his or her pastoral responsibilities to the Native population. The elder wants the administrator to make an exception to this rule – the administrator claims that he cannot break the law. The elder claims that this fire regulation violates his/her religious rights and freedoms, which are guaranteed in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The issue here has to do with what happens when a municipal, provincial or federal law appears to violate the religious rights and freedoms of a particular faith group.
  17. “I had the experience of providing ministry to a young Muslim woman who was dying of Aids. During one of my visits, I met the patient’s mother, who had just arrived from her native country. After I introduced myself and explained to her my role in the hospital, she asked me to say a prayer for her daughter. I felt a bit hesitant – I thought to myself – ‘if I pray as a Christian, would she understand and appreciate my prayer’? What would you do in this situation? You are a non-Muslim.
  18. A Chaplain at a local hospital says, “I join the annual celebration of the Passover with the Jewish veterans and their families. I participate by reading a passage of the sacred text assigned to me by the Rabbi. During the first couple of years, I could notice some faces wondering why a Christian chaplain is present in a Jewish celebration. I think there could be the same reaction from my Catholic community when a non-Christian joins our celebration”. And what do those reactions mean? Is it a good idea for people of one faith tradition to be active participants in the prayer services of another faith tradition? Why or why not?
  19. A Christian and a Muslim sit down for dialogue. They agree that there are lots of good reasons for them to be in dialogue, not least of which is the fact that Muslims and Christians together compose almost 50% together of the world’s population. There are lots of areas of convergence and agreement between Christianity and Islam. There are also lots of areas of divergence. One of the key theological differences could be described as follows: Among Muslims, the traditional, orthodox position is that the Qu’ran is God’s full, final and definitive revelation. In Christianity, the traditional, orthodox position is that Jesus is God’s full, final and definitive revelation. With your discussion partner, explore the dimensions of this divergence.
  20. How much interfaith cross-fertilization is possible, acceptable or appropriate in single-faith or multi-faith services? For example, do you feel that it is acceptable for a non-Native person to conduct a smudge (sweet grass ceremony)? Do you feel it is acceptable for a Buddhist to read the gospel and preach the sermon during a Christian service? For a non-Muslim, fluent in Arabic, to recite the Qu’ran in a multi-faith prayer service? For a non-Jew, fluent in Hebrew, to read from the Torah during a service in a Reformed Jewish synagogue? For Buddhist cymbals, bells and gongs to be used by non-Buddhists to start and end each session of an interfaith conference? Think of other examples and discuss them.
  21. A conversation between two persons concerning public or official prayer with particular focus on the 1994 changes in the House of Commons prayer in Canada. The House of Commons is the chief locale for political decision-making in Canada. Each daily session of Parliament begins with a prayer. In this scenario, one person is very upset about the 1994 changes in the 117-year old House of Commons prayer. This person feels that the prayer has essentially been de-Christianized because of the removal of the Lord’s Prayer and the three references to Jesus Christ. This person feels that Canada is a “Christian” country and that this new “neutered” prayer really amounts to a denial of our cultural heritage. A second person takes quite a different position on this issue – this person sees these changes as a necessary concession to Canada’s multi-faith reality where many faiths and cultures live side-by-side with one another. It no longer makes sense for official or public prayer to contain the theology of only one of the many faith groups present in the country. Discuss this dilemma with your partner.Please find below the texts of the old and new prayers:The new version — 1994
    Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings, which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy. We pray for our sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and the governor-general. Guide us in our deliberations as Members of Parliament and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as members. Grant us wisdom, knowledge and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions.

    The old version – 1877
    O Lord our heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of kings, Lord of lord, the only Ruler of princes, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth: Most heartily we beseech thee with thy favor to behold our most gracious sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth; and so replenish her with grace of thy Holy spirit that she may always incline to thy will and walk in thy way: Endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant her in health and wealth long to live; strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies; and finally, after this life, she may attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord – Amen.

    Almighty God, the fountain of goodness, we humbly beseech thee to bless Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Charles, Prince of Wales, and all the royal family: Endue them with the Holy Spirit; enrich them with thy heavenly grace; prosper them with all happiness; and bring them to thine everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord – Amen.

    Most gracious God, we humbly beseech thee, as for the United Kingdom, Canada and Her Majesty’s other realms and territories, so especially for Canada, and herein more particularly for the governor-general, the Senate, and the House of Commons, in their legislative capacity at this time assembled; that thou wouldst be pleased to direct and prosper all their consultations, to the advancement of their glory, the safety, honor, and welfare of our sovereign and her realms and territories, that all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavors, upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations. These, and all other necessaries for them, and for us, we humbly beg in the name, and through the mediation of Jesus Christ, our most blessed Lord and Savior – Amen.

    Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. – Amen.

  22. Create a design for a multi-faith worship space (i.e. a chapel for a hospital, correctional centre, seniors’ residence, airport or university. How to create a sacred space that is sensitive to and encompasses all faiths?
  23. One of the most contentious issues in many societies has to do with whether the government should fund religious schools. Below you will find arguments on both sides of the issue:Supporter of one publicly-funded school system:
    • public schools – with all their diversity – prepare students for life in a multicultural society
    • religious schools ghettoize young people
    • if some religions want their own schools, they have to take full responsibility for paying for them
    • the public purse cannot afford to finance religious schools
    • in their curricula, public schools can include education and information about various religions and cultures

    Supporter of publicly-funded religious schools

    • public schools do not put enough emphasis on moral education
    • content about various religions and cultures in the public school curriculum is superficial
    • religious schools form children – morally, spiritually and culturally by rooting them deeply in their own tradition
    • religious schools focus on more than just the “religion” program — e.g. math, science, history, language etc. can also be taught from the perspective of the given religion
  24. Can you think of other multi-faith scenarios, dilemmas, creative opportunities or situations in your spiritual care situation? Would you like to discuss one of these in a small group?

Sharon Grant is responsible for chaplaincy at York Central Hospital in Richmond hill, Ontario, Canada

Paul McKenna MA is co-ordinator of the Scarboro Missions Interfaith Desk in Toronto, Canada

For more information about this workshop, contact Paul McKenna at