‘A faith-based hospital for all faiths’: A conversation with a Saint Luke’s chaplain

January 13, 2022

On World Religion Day, we celebrate our Saint Luke’s history as a faith-based health system. While Saint Luke’s is faith-based, we are not faith-based for just a single religion or faith. We are a faith-based hospital for all faiths—or no faith at all—and we welcome and provide care to patients from a variety of faith backgrounds and spiritual practices.

To commemorate World Religion Day, we spoke with Bethany Ruhl, manager of spiritual wellness and chaplain at Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City Crittenton Children’s Center, about her experience as a provider of spiritual care. Check out our conversation below.

Question: Tell us a little bit about what led you to become a chaplain.

Answer: “I had great listeners when I was in college — people who listened to me both in my highs and my lows. I wanted to be able to share that feeling of being listened to and truly understood with others.”

Q: What is it like to be a chaplain? What does a day-in-the-life look like?

A: “In a children's mental health hospital, a lot of our work deals with working through grief. Many of the children in our care have had one or more people that they were close to that have died or are currently incarcerated, so a lot of what we do involves feeling those hard feelings and talking through what they mean to the kids and their lives.”

Q: What motivates you as a chaplain? What inspires you?

A: “Before I worked at Crittenton, I did my training in the emergency department and the NICU. Before that, I also worked in a women's prison. During my time there, I worked with some individuals that were there because they had done some of the worst things you could imagine. But while I was there, I saw many of them work through their struggles, achieve real healing, and come out better.

I believe in a God that offers us unconditional love, healing, and grace, no matter who we are and no matter what we've done. That’s what motivates me and inspires me every day — healing is always possible.”

Q: What does a personal interaction with a chaplain look like? What is it like to provide spiritual support to people of different faiths, or no faith at all?

A: “In a hospital setting, if someone is suffering physically, they are often also suffering spiritually. If someone subscribes to a particular faith, my conversations with them often revolve around what their faith and their current situation mean to them. If they have no faith background, we’re still there to help process through some of the more existential questions and trying to make meaning out of suffering. Often that may take the form of a kind of “life review” — thinking back on their fondest memories, sharing their regrets, talking about what they may have done differently, and talking through what they believe happens after they die.

Regardless of whether someone subscribes to a particular faith or not, they nearly always still have spiritual needs that need to be met. That can look like a lot of things, such as forgiving someone or making amends with a family member or friend. For loved ones who are at the bedside with the chaplain, that can also mean giving a loved one permission to go when they are ready.”

Q: What does World Religion Day mean to you?

A: “World Religion Day reminds me of a poster that we have on the wall in our chapel space. It’s in the shape of a wheel and has quotes from thirteen different religions, each of them sharing their own version of “The Golden Rule.” They’re all phrased a bit differently, but the sentiment is the same. It’s a reminder that no matter what faith you subscribe to—or even if you subscribe to no faith at all—we all share a common calling and aspiration to treat others the way we would want to be treated.”

Q: What does the phrase a "faith-based hospital for all faiths” mean to you?

A: “No matter what your faith background is, our job as chaplains is to sit with people in the hard times and support them in any way they need. If someone is Muslim and needs a private space to pray, we help make that happen. If someone is Jewish and needs services from a rabbi, we connect them and make sure they get what they need. No matter what you believe in, we are here to help each patient process their circumstances in whatever way is most comfortable for them.

No matter where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here. I believe in radical hospitality — you'll be welcomed as you are. We’re simply here to help and provide the tools that will help you process and receive whatever spiritual support you may need.”

Q: If someone reading this finds themselves in the hospital sometime in the future, what would you want them to know about chaplains and how they can help, whether they subscribe to a faith or not?

A: “Regardless of your situation, your background, or your faith, chaplains are a nonanxious and non-judgmental support that are there to help meet your spiritual needs. We'll support you through the times of suffering and help you celebrate the joys as well.”

Q: Do you have a favorite memory to share?

A: “One of my favorite memories involves the murals of the Hope Chapel at Crittenton Children’s Center — the murals are directly inspired by the children who receive care here.

In 2019, we received a generous donation to create a new interfaith chapel space. As an interfaith chaplain, I come from a tradition that says God stands with the poor and the marginalized. Many of our patients come from backgrounds where they have experienced trauma or abuse, so I wanted to help their voices be heard.

I hired local muralist Sike Style Industries to work with the teens of Crittenton to come up with spiritual images that would be personally meaningful to them. One image in particular—a lion protecting a lamb—was suggested by a teenage boy who grew up in the foster care system because it represents how “Crittenton protects vulnerable kids in our society."

Together, the group also decided that the lamb should be a “rainbow inclusivity lamb" because the patients at Crittenton come from diverse racial, economic, cultural, and spiritual backgrounds. The inclusivity lamb is also a nod to the pride flag — we have patients at Crittenton that identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, and we want to actively support their spirituality in whatever way they may want to express it.”