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Granger Westberg on nursing and prayer.

The following passage has been taken from an early work by Rev. Dr. Granger Westberg, entitled Nurse, Pastor, and Patient: A Hospital Chaplain Talks with Nurses, penned while a chaplain at the University of Chicago Clinics, and Associate Professor of Pastoral Care on the Federated Theological Faculty at the University of Chicago. (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Press, 1959). Written before he conceived of parish nursing, or even the wholistic health centers which preceded the new specialty practice, this work contains much wisdom of value to parish nurses today.

"When is it appropriate to pray with a patient? The answer is not a simple one and yet a partial answer might be something like this. A nurse should offer a brief prayer whenever a patient asks specifically for prayer or shows by his actions that he would very much appreciate it. The interesting thing is that almost no patient will make such a request of a nurse whose manner indicates that prayer is not a part of her makeup.... In times of illness a patient seems to develop a sixth sense of special sensitivity. The depths within him are constantly searching for someone else in whom he may find understanding and companionship.

The patient who asks for prayer is usually one who is going through an experience which is of crisis proportions to him. When the pain or the fear is more than he can handle, he cries out with emotion, 'Nurse, say a prayer for me, will you?' For the most part such a request is handled by saying, 'I surely will.' And it ends there. We realize that this is a common expression often uttered in the same breath with 'Don't forget me.' Yet the 'pray for me' often has an intensity of 'and I wish you would say it out loud right here so that it would give me a lift right now. I just can't seem to pray.'

Chaplains hear this expression a dozen times a day and each time they have to decide instantly whether hiding within the expression is a genuine desire for audible prayer. The nurse must recognize that any expression regarding prayer, or God, or the Bible, however flippantly said, may be this person's way of trying to convey to someone his sense of estrangement from God and his desire to be helped back to faith. And suppose the patient really does not mean that he wants an audible prayer and yet the nurse misjudges the patient's statement and begins to pray a simple prayer at his side. You may be sure that this patient will always remember that the nurse was serious enough in her concern for his total welfare so that she voices this concern in a meaningful sentence of prayer. It seems that it is better to err on the side of praying than to walk out on a person who might be helped by such a simple act.


The kind of prayer we are talking about is a brief prayer of one to five sentences which grows naturally out of a particular situation. It is spoken in a quiet conversational tone with content that brings a feeling of calm and assurance to the patient. The prayer should not excite or stir up the patient by arousing feelings of apprehension or fear. It should be spoken with a rind of honest awareness of the loneliness and confusion which often casts our souls down, yet with a type of confidence in God that is unshaken.

It should not be necessary to say that certainly no nurse ought to force prayer upon a patient who would be disturbed by it or who has shown antagonism to religion in general. The nurse's prayer for the patient ought to fit into the mood of the moment as naturally as straightening the pillow beneath the patient's head." (p. 49-51)

This book by Rev. Dr. Granger Westberg is out of print, but the IPNRC has a few copies available (used), which can be purchased for $20 postpaid. To order, please e-mail
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Publication:Parish Nurse Perspectives
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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