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More to Red Cross Spiritual Care than Praying

  • Spititual Care
    Volunteer Al Schipper, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a member of the American Red Cross spiritual care team in Columbia, South Carolina, talks to a resident of a Red Cross shelter. (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)
We’re there to honor their feelings.

During a disaster, the American Red Cross provides a variety of services to help people recover including emotional support, health services and spiritual care. And contrary to the name, there’s more to the Red Cross spiritual care team than praying.

A spiritual care team comprised of members from across the country has been helping on the relief response to the South Carolina flooding. Like others on the team working with flood survivors in Columbia, South Carolina, Al Schipper, Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a chaplain although it’s a term he and the others don’t often use.

“Sometimes labels get in the way of things. We work to break down barriers, not to raise them,” Schipper said. “Actually, the praying is only a small part of what we do. We don’t get the pulpit out and preach a sermon.” Spiritual care is about reaching out to people and helping them overcome their adversity, whether it’s with a conversation or helping with such things as getting a wheelchair fixed or finding food for the family dog.

All spiritual care responders are trained to provide appropriate and respectful disaster spiritual care in line with Red Cross fundamental principles of impartiality and neutrality. It’s best to let the survivors follow their own beliefs. Some welcome prayer while others don’t.

“We’re never there to proselytize. We’re there to honor their feelings” said Joe Bozzelli from the Cincinnati, Ohio area. “So many times, we’re told ‘thanks for listening’ and it’s such a relief to be told that.”

Team members gather daily to decide where they need to go. One recent day, Bozzelli was part of a team of mental health and nursing volunteers who visited a person whose relative died in the flooding. He said in such cases he encourages the family to talk about their loved one because in recounting the story, they often talk about needs that the Red Cross or one of its partners can help with.

Meanwhile, the other team members went to the Red Cross shelter at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Columbia where they visited with flood survivors staying there. The team leader, Connie Regener of Irvine, California, listened as a woman talked about her ordeal. She mentioned having back pain after sleeping several nights on a shelter cot. But she hadn’t told anybody because she didn’t want to be a bother.

Regener went to the shelter manager and Red Cross nurse and explained the situation. Soon the woman had a more comfortable cot easier to get in and out of.“ We’re supposed to be present and available,” she said. “Sometime people will confide in us when they won’t talk to anybody else.”

HOW TO HELP The Red Cross depends on the continued support of the public to help people affected by disasters big and small. People can help by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief to support disasters big and small by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.