Join the journey of a fairly recently graduated MSW social worker, navigating the expanse of hospice social work in the south, the ups and downs of graduate school, LCSW exam stress and excitement, and preparing for a future in macro social work practice

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Religion and spirituality

So one of the volunteers I work with mentioned the other day that I am “just not religious enough to be a good social worker.”  Terrific.

I have two problems with this statement: A) Since when is religiosity (or even spirituality) a prerequisite for success as a social worker? And B) Since when am I not religious?

We are planning a memorial service for hospice families that have lost loved ones in the last year.  It is taking place in a local church. We were discussing the order of programs and it was mentioned that we need an opening and closing prayer. I offered to say the closing prayer. One of the volunteers looked at me and said, “Um, we are looking for someone to pray who has more, um, traditional beliefs. You know, beliefs that go along with the majority of the people in this area.” That was what he said, but what he meant, if you are not a Baptist preacher or preacher’s wife, you are not qualified to pray in public. 

Never mind the fact that this is a non-denominational memorial service meant for members of any/all/no religion. 

During the same conversation, my boss commented to me "you are so unchurched it is ridiculous." Which is actually not true, given that I am a weekly participant in church services, pray several times a day, attend scripture study weekly, and volunteer much of my time each week to my church.

As eye opening as it has been spending this time in the south, I struggle with this a great deal. I grow weary of people assuming that religiosity equals worth in a person. I have had hospice volunteers who have refused to go into the home of a patient who is not religious, and volunteers who have all but insisted that their own minister meet with a non-religious patient to make sure that patient is all right before Jesus before death.

Although intentions may be sincere, this creates challenges as a social worker to train volunteers and staff members to protect the patient’s own right to determine what he/she needs from a spiritual point of view.

Social workers are trained to work in a very inclusive fashion, and to accept the realities of other people’s lives without judgment. This applies to religious beliefs and practices as well. While I don’t personally mind being the religious minority, I do wish that there was a little bit more open mindedness about that in my area.

How do religion and spirituality and social work relate? I feel like in some lines of work, it is a very fine line that separates them. What has your experience been? If you find it to be a fine line, how do you navigate it?

By the way, this is a fascinating project that is attempting to better understand and bring together world religions. If you are interested in getting a better understanding of world religions- either for yourself or to better understand your clients- check out: Project Conversion. And follow it on Facebook here.

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