Mercy now offering e-chaplaincy service

Wednesday, August 15, 2012
William James Schafer, director of Pastoral Services in Fort Scott and Independence, Kan., is one of the team members who provides e-chaplaincy through Mercy Hospital.(Submitted Photo)

The grief of losing a loved one, anxiety after receiving a frightening medical diagnosis, or worry over caring for an aging parent aren't necessarily medical problems, but they can be spiritual ones. Mercy patients now have an additional place to turn when they need guidance alongside physical care. It's called e-chaplaincy, and it allows patients and their families to reach out to chaplains for prayer and support via email.

"For someone who is up at 3 a.m. worrying or unable to break away from work to schedule an appointment, e-chaplaincy allows them to reach out at their convenience," said Julie Jones, executive director of mission and ministry at Mercy. "We want to make sure our patients have spiritual support at all times."

Getting in touch with a chaplain can be done by logging on to, going to the message center and clicking on "contact a chaplain," or by sending an email to a chaplain through

Patients can then correspond via email or request a phone call. Strict confidentiality is maintained at all times, but a news release said, email is not always a secure method of communication so personal details should be kept to a minimum.

"The nature of communication is changing with the use of social media," William James Schafer, director of Pastoral Services in Fort Scott and Independence, Kan., said. "As chaplains we are merely expanding our ministry beyond the walls of our traditional setting -- the hospital. The nature of communication is changing as we continue to see the increase use of electronic media. Some people are not comfortable talking about challenging life issues face to face. E-chaplaincy is a comfortable way for others to reach out over the Internet."

Some of the issues chaplains address from a spiritual and emotional perspective include:

* Grief/loss

* Relationship issues

* Loneliness

* Stress

* Managing change

* Life balance

* Spirituality and growth

* Health issues and coping

* Finding a support group

E-chaplaincy is not a professional counseling service, but one of Mercy's trained chaplains can offer practical advice at times of change and challenge, a listening ear and prayer and support, the release said. There are 12 trained e-chaplains across Mercy with plans to expand the service as needed.

"In time, we also hope to be able to video chat with patients in clinic locations," Schafer said. "Today, more of Mercy's patient interactions are in clinic settings than in the hospital. However, it's often difficult for patients to wait at a location until we can arrive to meet them. Video chat will allow us to respond to requests quickly."

E-chaplaincy is now available to patients in all Mercy communities in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.