The LDS Woman Who Serves as a Chaplain for Those Who Are Dying

by | Jun. 09, 2016

Mormon Life

Mosiah and Gratitude 

Seeking to serve others and show gratitude, Wanlass was inspired by the chapters in Mosiah that talk about being a profitable servant to Heavenly Father and began looking for volunteering opportunities. 

Due to her past experience, she felt drawn to the Bradley Center for Grieving Children and Families, a center founded by Carrie Moore and Janice Taylor. Intrigued by Moore, who is a chaplain herself, Wanlass began looking into what chaplains do. 

It wasn't what Wanlass expected. She assumed chaplains were part of another religion but found out chaplains can be of any faith. They can work in the military but also in hospitals, prisons universities, and with hospice patients. Chaplains provide spiritual support to others, hold non-denominational services, guide people through the grieving process, and provide access to religious services of the faith of others while maintaining their own beliefs. 

While Wanlass is well aware of what chaplains are now that she is one, she says others don't always understand what a chaplain is. 

"My husband has experienced this," she chuckles. "He might say to someone who we haven't seen in a long time, 'Yeah, my wife's a chaplain.' And he's gotten reactions like, 'Oh I'm so sorry,' thinking that I've left the Church." 

While those experiences are often humorous, she says there are moments as a chaplain where her desire to bring people together was blocked by the misconceptions of others. 

Once, after talking for a long period of time with a woman she was assisting, Wanlass asked if she would like to pray with her. The woman declined, saying she did not know what faith Wanlass belonged to and would be uncomfortable having Wanlass pray with her. 

It's an experience Wanlass is not unused to, but one she is seeing less and less. 

"As a Chaplain, I'm still hearing stories of people or their children being excluded because of their faith and the pain that some have carried forward for their entire lives," Wanlass says. "My heart aches when I hear of these experiences. Sometimes the exclusion goes both ways and becomes a cycle. While I know this still happens, I think that people are trying to be aware and are becoming more inclusive overall."

Fruits of the Spirit

When she serves as a chaplain, Wanlass is not really able to actively teach others of the LDS faith. But she finds it a sweet experience to be able to nurture the light of Christ in people of all faiths.

"We're all at different places on our path and sometimes it just takes someone listening and allowing us to be able to talk out loud about our feelings and our faith to be able to recognize that we do have faith, that we do have the strength and courage that comes from beliefs that are beyond what we can do ourselves in the world," she says.

She says one of the most beautiful things she sees is when a person, with tears streaming down their cheeks, is proclaiming their faith. Seeing them at one of the darkest times in life admitting that it's difficult, but still knowing they'll see their loved ones again. 

She also notices fruits of the Spirit like the peace that comes from people of all faiths feeling the love Heavenly Father has for them.

"It really is such a sacred privilege to be able to be there and support people in those crossroads of life and in difficult times and such a joy to see people make sense of their world," she says. "I'm inspired by the people I meet: it's just very much a privilege to be a chaplain."

Photo courtesy of Valerie Wanlass
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