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Standards for excellence improve spiritual health

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By Fran Salone-Pelletier, Religion Columnist

At a recent meeting of hospital chaplains, a slide presentation and talk informed and inspired all attendees with a goal that propelled us out of any lapse into mediocrity.
The hard copy of the talk contained 11 pages of solid information, suggestions, conversation openers, supporting behaviors and unwavering standards. No stone was left unturned. No area remained untended.
Novant Healthcare’s mission to improve community health—a vision of providing a remarkable experience in every dimension every time—has values that incorporate compassion, honor diversity, empower personal excellence and engender teamwork. It raises the bar beyond ordinary care.
The focus is on the other. This is not a surprising statement when one thinks of hospital work, but it is yet a demanding one. It calls for continuing awareness of persons, of individuals who are hurting rather than the ills with which they are diagnosed. In the process, labels disappear and judgments along with them. Willingness to help becomes the modus operandi. Dignity is maintained and respect becomes paramount.
Communication skills must be honed at every level, from staff to staff and staff to patient. Care must be taken to ensure that words convey exact meaning. Obviously, this is a process that demands time, energy, patience, repetition, and a serious degree of empathy. It asks that all involved work toward anticipation of needs as well as clarity of thought.
Teamwork is necessary. There can be no lone rangers who seek to serve on their terms alone. All are perceived as coworkers. Each is one among equals. All deserve support and affirmation. Open-mindedness is essential. Listening before speaking, responding rather than reacting, become protocol. The acknowledgement of another’s feelings diffuses difficult situations and reminds us of our common humanity, our shared fragility and propensity to seek only our side of the story.
With these attitudes in place, it is easy to be cooperative and even easier to ask for help when needed. Problems are no longer insurmountable evils. They are opportunities for learning, understanding, and change.
As I listened and watched intently, I began to think of church communities who strive to live up to and into biblical standards. This talk, meant for hospital personnel and presented as part of the orientation process for all, including volunteers, could be well heard with spiritual ears.
With a slight revamping of words, every faith community could pledge a similar commitment to demonstrate and uphold standards for ministerial excellence, serving God’s people as God would have them be served. I can envision churches whose congregations actively apply those standards to their everyday interactions, actions and decisions. I can see God’s people everywhere asking themselves—their communities—how they can help to improve their commitment to upholding excellence.
All of us could maintain a battery of questions that would assist us in being and becoming holier and more wholesome, questions that would allow God’s spirit to emerge in our actions, speech and silence.
“How may I help you?” would be our lead question, unspoken as well as spoken. We’d seek first to understand the stance and life experience of the other before addressing any issues we might see. We would take time to be silent, trusting that our presence is enough for them.
Maintaining dignity is essential. It is not sufficient to believe that we are children of God. We must act on that belief, viewing all persons with the honor due divinely created beings. Judgment must be suspended, if not totally dismissed. Everyone is first, and foremost, a brother or sister in the human family. Before knocking on the door of someone’s life, ask permission to enter. It is too easy to step on the human spirit, crushing it with truth. Await the invitation without presuming the importance of one’s visit. Perhaps, we’ll be denied entry because we are intruding, or coming at an inappropriate time, or simply because it is too soon for truth...or too late.
Remember to build relationships by sharing something personal, telling one’s own faith story. Our journey, fraught with highs and lows, joys and sorrows, will usually resonate with that of the hearer. Common connections emerge. Doors to the soul will open. Directions can be offered. Transformation is given time and space to begin.
Most importantly, all of us need to be continually reminded that we are a team. We are members of the body of Christ, members of God’s family. Each of is both unique and important but all of us are essential to God’s will being done on this earth as it done in heaven. So, assisting each coworker and emphasizing their value is crucial.
If there are any disagreements, they must be handled privately and with courtesy. In the family of God, we will create an environment that will not tolerate yelling, screaming, disrespectfully interrupting others. There will be no foul language or jokes that promote discrimination of any kind. Nor will there be name-calling, labeling or disparaging remarks. Negativity and derision will not be the order of the day. A positive attitude will be viewed as the best way to present the truth—and to hear suggestions.
Whatever needs to be done, no matter how menial the task, is done cooperatively. If there is spiritual trash being bandied about, we’ll not walk around it or ignore it, but will pick it up and put it where it belongs. If something is broken, we’ll fix it or see that it is fixed.
Lastly, we’ll smile from deep within our being. Smiles are felt as well as seen. They are not simply plastered onto an unbelieving face, an unwilling listener. The smile of spirituality derives from a profound life experience. It emerges from a well of sorrow and identifies us as companions on the way to God.
From the viewpoint of the talk I heard, I came to the conclusion that earth is a heavenly hospital. It is our learning ground for healing, forgiving and change. It affords us opportunities to change our hearts and minds and to share those opportunities with those who fail to see them. In this healing place, we have only standards of excellence to uphold. Their lack delays our healing.

Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives” [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. Reach her at grammistfran@gmail.com.