Spiritual leaders from all around the globe recently gathered at Cancer Treatment Center of America in Philadelphia for a workshop meant to strengthen their faith communities’ cancer ministries.
The Our Journey of Hope retreat invited spiritual leaders from about 40 faith communities across the country as well as international locations like Nigeria, Uganda and Uttar Pradesh. The workshop focuses on empowering pastors and ministry leaders to start or expand cancer support ministries at their churches and other places of worship.
“I would say the vast majority of our patients would confess to some kind of faith,” said the Rev. Wendell Scanterbury, director of pastoral care at CTCA in Philadelphia who helps run the event. “Not necessarily only Christian faith but some kind of belief in a higher being or greater reality. To that degree, that is a real part of the lived experience.”
He said cancer patients draw strength and conviction from their deepest beliefs.
“Cancer really does impact one’s view of self and life and world, so it goes into existential questions. Why am I here, why is this happening to me, and how do I make sense of this experience,” Scanterbury said.
The two-day event featured cancer education presentations, peer networking, discussion on how to build and maintain a cancer care ministry and a tour of the facility, including the prayer room and chapel.
Among the speakers was Dr. Sramila Aithal, who provides leaders and pastors with medical knowledge about cancer including overviews of causes and treatments. She said providing care and information to cancer patients and their caregivers is her “greatest passion.”
“Whether they’re starting a cancer ministry in their community, church, town or family, they can be better equipped and empower people going through these illnesses where they can bring them hope and care for them,” Aithal said. “I want to make sure they are empowered and go with the right knowledge.”
Both Aithal and Scanterbury want to make sure attendees leave the conference with accurate information, even if that means doing some “myth busting.”
“There’s often a harsh divide between faith and science, and the things our clinicians do together with what we bring from the pastoral care addresses some of the myths and preconceptions that could potentially be more harmful than helpful,” Scanterbury said.
CTCA holds Our Journey of Hope three times a year at Philadelphia as well as at other locations.