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Chaplain services make virtual house calls, offer spiritual guidance via Skype

Spiritual guidance has come into the digital age. With the rise of telemedicine and other remote medical services, it was only a matter of time before someone decided that counseling would need to be provided virtually as well. Now, patients with debilitating diseases can seek spiritual guidance by way of Skype, thanks to religious figures working with ChaplainsOnHand.org, ChaplainCareforVeterans.org, and CantBelieveIHaveCancer.org.

This new service allows individuals who are bedridden or otherwise incapable of accessing the pastoral services they need via Skype or a phone call, and may soon be considered the new normal for the field of chaplaincy.

The Rev. Eric Hall, who serves as the president of the New York-based HealthCare Chaplaincy Network (HCCN), the nonprofit behind these services, told Reuters, “When people are faced with a crisis, somewhere in their minds and in their hearts, they ask questions about why this is happening to them. We face our own frailty, and people want an answer and to be able to talk it out.”

Calling it “spiritual first-aid,” the Rev. Amy Strano, HCCN’s director of programs and services, explained the necessity of these Skype calls, saying, “People are isolated and alone so much of the time, and spiritual care is something that has often been dismissed and ignored.”

With many Americans living in rural areas without easy access to religious figures or others who may provide spiritual comfort, this service is one that has already met with significant demand — in just four months, CantBelieveIHaveCancer.org saw 200,000 unique visitors.

And these services aren’t only for the deeply religious or devout. Rather, the idea is to allow anyone and everyone access to some sense of camaraderie and companionship. Indeed, chaplains in the program are trained in helping to address “existential questions about meaning, pain, isolation, and relationships — either within or outside of theological frameworks.”

As the Rev. George Handzo, HCCN’s director of health services, research, and quality, told Reuters, “Back in the day, everyone belonged to a local congregation, and the pastor, the rabbi, or the imam came to the house. That day is gone. Our services are aimed at those that for whatever reason are thankfully not dying in hospitals. Who reaches out to them? You can’t just send a chaplain up and down halls like we used to.”