Taking a closer look at spiritual spaces

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Despite Calgary’s intricate cultural mosaic, the multi-faith room in Foothills Hospital appears to have been designed to best accommodate Christian faiths rather than
those of different cultures.

Alberta Health Services representative Bruce Conway contends the space is welcoming to all religions — stressing non-Christian chaplaincy
services are available to patients.

However, with a portrait of a saint and verses from the Bible framed and nailed to the hallway leading up to spiritual centre, it seems like not all who attend Foothills Hospital would feel comfortable using the space.

When asked about the apparent lack of neutrality in the space, Conway said the Foothills Hospital accommodates all religions, and their volunteer support program is able to meet the demand for religious diversity.

“Should (the patients) have wanted support in their faith, than we would have a trained volunteer go and visit them and bring materials from that tradition,” said Conway.

“So if they’re not seeing it (in the Spiritual Centre), it doesn’t mean that support is not available.”

multifaithThe multi-faith room in Foothills Hospital has the potential to feel inviting for other religious faiths, but is still missing a neutral space where all can feel welcome.

Photo by Jordan KroschinskyRosemarie Elaine Fitton, a senior lecturer at De Montfort University in the United Kingdom who specializes in the design of spiritual environments, said, “Biblical scripts along the walls would, in my mind, be sending out a strong message that the space was Christian, and not in fact a space for all faiths.”

There are doors to cover the portrait of the saint at Foothills Hospital’s spiritual centre. However, Fitton said it’s not always the best option.

“The research I have conducted has brought to light instances where ‘neutralising’ a room” — in this case closing the doors — “for the next potential users can be forgotten or ignored, creating a space that is foremost Christian.”

Moreover, when the Calgary Journal visited the multi-faith room and asked for a copy of the Koran, a staff member said they did not have one on hand.

Neena Obhrai, the vice president of resources for the Calgary Hindu Society, personally experienced the stress of not having the proper resources to practice her faith within the Foothills Hospital in 2004, when she almost lost her husband who fell into a coma.

“There was nothing for the Hindus,” Obhrai recalled. “Some people just need to
meditate, and I was so desperate I just brought (religious items) from home.

“When people are desperate they need something to hang onto,” Obhrai said. “Some books for prayers would be good; (the Hindu Society of Calgary) would be willing to donate them to the hospital for free.”

Conway said four chaplains representing other religions, such as Buddhism, are available. There are also health care and religious beliefs pamphlets available to anyone inquiring about other religions.

“We can’t be all things to everybody but we do try,” Conway said, adding patients who have concerns should talk to staff. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, he said the next step is to contact the office of patient relations to discuss the concern or complaint.


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