Theresa Watkins began emailing her team members this year to ask for prayer requests. A radiology data coordinator at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, she and others in the department divide up a list of 150 radiology staff to make sure everyone is prayed for every quarter. They let their team members know that they’ll be praying for them and asked if they had any special requests.

“People are so appreciative that someone is there for them,” says Watkins. “I had a couple people tell me the email came at an opportune time, because they had a struggle in their lives or with their families.”

Watkins reaches out to her fellow team members as part of the Spiritual Ambassador program at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. Through the program, she helps give emotional and spiritual support in times of need.

“Our goals are to build trust, create community and foster hope,” says Mark Stoddart, administrative director of spiritual wellness at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. “A spiritual ambassador works to facilitate a safe place where people can be themselves.”

Coming alongside spiritual journeys

The program was started 17 years ago at AdventHealth’s flagship hospital in Florida, AdventHealth Orlando. Back then, nurses at the hospital approached their chief nursing officer to ask if they could pray for those who needed spiritual support, says Sergio Torres, manager for spiritual ambassadors at AdventHealth. Those 25 nurses became the first spiritual ambassadors and helped to advance the hospital’s mission in extending the healing ministry of Christ.

“They saw themselves as ambassadors to come alongside people’s journeys and be able to minister through prayer and spiritual counseling,” says Torres.

Today, Torres estimates there are about 5,000 spiritual ambassadors at AdventHealth facilities. He visits the hospitals to help provide training and guidance for those who volunteer for the program. Spiritual ambassadors are encouraged to find ways to serve the needs of team members as well as the community.

“It’s about building intentional relationships,” says Torres. “That means listening to other people’s stories and being a part of their journey so when they’re in a difficult moment, they know they have someone there for them.”

During the presentations, Torres talks about serving three basic human needs: trust, belonging and hope.

“We have to earn the respect of others in our relationships,” says Torres. “A spiritual ambassador should be someone who has an outlook of peace and joy to create a positive, enriching experience for team members.”

Spiritual ambassadors should also be trustworthy and make all team members feel like they belong, he adds.

That starts with accepting differences, including religious and cultural backgrounds. “I don’t have to fit in to belong. I don’t have to change who I am to belong. I just have to be me,” explains Torres.

When people know they’re not alone, they feel hopeful and positive about coming to work every day. “Hope comes out of providing meaning,” says Stoddart. “That meaning can be found in whatever line of work you have, whether it’s clinical or nonclinical. It’s about knowing that your service means something to others.”

For Watkins, the program has been a rewarding experience. She started volunteering because she liked the idea of acknowledging spirituality in the workplace. She often shares with team members how faith has helped her get through stressful situations. She feels honored that people trust her to talk about their challenges and makes sure they know she’s on their side.

“It takes the pressure off that you don’t have to have all the answers,” she says. “We just have to be there and listen.”

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Ann Muder is a writer/editor for AdventHealth Shawnee Mission.