To celebrate the holiday season, we sat down with Ajith Varghese, manager of spiritual and religious care at SHN, to tell us about the importance of these services at our hospitals and in the Scarborough community.
Ajith started off at SHN as an intern more than 10 years ago, and made his way to a full-time staff member and now into management of the department. In addition to serving as the manager here at SHN, he is also a certified clinical spiritual care educator and supervisor and adjunct faculty at the Toronto School of Theology with the University of Toronto.
1. December is a month of celebrations for many in our Scarborough community. How do you recommend people celebrate their religious and spiritual holidays this year while staying safe?
The message of all the holidays at this time is sharing. This year I would encourage everyone to reach out to others – you neighbours, friends and family, to remain connected this holiday season. You can do that through virtual channels and social media platforms, or even by making a home-cooked meal to leave on your neighbour’s front porch.
I encourage you to find new ways to express and celebrate your love for life and each other over the holidays. Release your own creativity and have fun making this year’s holidays a unique and memorable experience for all. Above all, let us keep an attitude of gratitude, joy and hope! While we may not be able to see all of our friends or family, try and get creative and create new traditions that keep everyone safe, healthy and happy.
2. SHN offers a variety of spiritual and religious care services. Why do you think it’s so important to have these services available to our patients and their families?
It’s so important because Scarborough is a both a multi-cultural and multi-faith community. We provide spiritual care that is sensitive and respectful to the diversity of our community, and are heavily invested in providing a holistic experience of care to both our staff and the entire Scarborough population.
Spiritual care not only addresses people’s religious needs, but also their health as it pertains to the mind, body and soul. It’s especially important when people are in crisis or when they’re faced with a difficult illness or prognosis.
When we’re faced with a difficult situation, faith or what gives us meaning or purpose in life becomes essential because it helps us to continue the meaning-making process amidst the current situation. Spiritual care facilitates this meaning-making process for our hospital community through various spiritual, clinical and psycho-social interventions.
During a particularly difficult year dealing with COVID-19, spiritual care is playing a vital role in the wellness of our frontline team members who have been battling this virus since day one. We have increased the number of one-to-one sessions with our staff members, and are providing active care and resources to ensure they are taking care of their body, mind and soul.
3. Scarborough is one of the most diverse and vibrant communities in Canada. How does this diversity come into play when it comes to religious and spiritual care at our hospitals?
I believe that Scarborough is the world, and the world is in Scarborough. It is essential that we meet the emotional and psycho-spiritual needs of a global community.All of our spiritual care practitioners are trained to work with people of all faiths and no faith at all. Although our practitioners have their own personal beliefs and cultural backgrounds, they are trained to care for each and every individual. Our practitioners speak multiple different languages to cater to our community, and more importantly they are representative of the different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds that make up Scarborough.
SHN is also a teaching hospital for clinical spiritual care affiliated with University of Toronto, so we take great pride and care in teaching our next generation of spiritual care practitioners how to provide support in a culturally diverse acute care setting.
4. This year has been extremely difficult for many in our Scarborough community. What advice do you have for those who may be feeling disconnected from their faith or others this holiday season?
I would encourage those who are feeling disconnected to tune into their local faith channel, whether it’s on television, the radio or streaming online or on social media channels – there are so many resources out there.
The holidays can be especially difficult if you have experienced the loss of a loved one. Many of our community members have experienced loss due to COVID-19, and many more were unable to travel for funerals or to say final goodbyes. I encourage anyone experiencing grief and loss to light a candle or make a favourite dish in honour of loved ones who are unable to be with you this year. Hang up a virtual or physical “memory stocking,” where you and others can write down treasured memories or pictures of holidays past.
Finally, if people are feeling alone it is crucial that they reach out to someone – a family member, friend, colleague or our team here at SHN. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone needs someone to talk to this holiday season.
5. Scarborough’s diversity is undoubtedly one of its greatest assets. What do you love most about Scarborough and our residents?
I myself have lived in Scarborough for more than 10 years, and have been working at SHN for almost that same amount of time. To me, Scarborough represents diversity, inclusivity and unity, and proves that those of different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs can live together in harmony while supporting one another.
I’m incredibly proud to work at SHN and excited to be part of the outstanding work we do each day. We truly practice what we preach, and over my tenure with SHN I have seen the changes and transitions the hospitals and community have been through. I look forward to what the future holds, and I wish everyone a happy holiday season!
We are incredibly grateful to have dedicated team members like Ajith caring for our diverse and vibrant Scarborough community. If you would like to learn more about spiritual and religious care at SHN, please visit SHN.ca/spiritual-religious-care/.