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Advance Care Planning: A Call to Action for Faith Communities

By Ashley Whitaker and Alyson Capp

Advance Care Planning helps individuals think intentionally about their beliefs and what gives their life meaning and beauty. Faith and spirituality are often such sources of meaning for our lives. The process of Advance Care Planning helps us articulate what is most important and provides a firm foundation for our care plan and goals moving forward. Legal documents, such as an Advanced Directive, can turn this invaluable conversation and process into a sense of certainty and clarity moving forward. These conversations and documents also empower people to make their decisions and preferences known ahead of time, easing the burden of decision making on their loved ones when they are no longer able to speak for themselves.

Advance Care Planning also offers individuals and their loved ones the opportunity to live out each and every day of their lives rooted in the very image of God that we are each formed in, as well as the values of each unique, beloved individual. Many sacred moments happen around the final bedside as loved ones hold vigil and share stories about a person’s life, love, and legacy that will live on after their death. Even in the midst of grief and loss, a sense of gratitude exists when we are able to carry out a person’s wishes and values, knowing for certain what they would have wanted.

Advance Care Planning is a gift we can give to our loved ones—it is an offering of peace of mind that helps brings comfort amidst some of the “what ifs” that come with the processes of illness, death, and grieving. Having “the conversation” about health care preferences near the end of life is a way to put your faith-informed values into action. Faith communities can play a large role in building trustworthy approaches to advance care planning that are rooted in respect for the unique religious beliefs and cultural practices of the communities they serve. How? Consider these opportunities to engage in advocacy this month:

  • Preach. Faith leaders can share thoughtful messages about the power of having the conversation about advance care planning during worship services. Seize the opportunity to connect foundational pillars of your faith tradition to the gift that advance care planning can be, especially when connected to a personal story about your own advance care planning journey.
  • Pray. Offer to pray with members of your faith community about issues related to advance care planning, like health, illness, gratitude, coping, and comfort. This practice can help us be intentional about the advance care planning process.
  •  Plan. Support members of your faith community to engage in advance care planning with their health care team.

For access to Advance Care Planning resources, visit these resource pages for both our Illinois and Wisconsin sites. For more ideas about engaging your community, check out The Conversation Project.

Rev. Ashley Whitaker, M.Div., is the Chaplain Fellow for Ethics for Advocate Aurora Health and a Staff Chaplain focused on Staff Support and Palliative Care at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. Her passion for advance care planning stems from a call to walk alongside people through all the places and spaces of life, including six years of local church ministry in rural, suburban, and urban contexts, and a chaplain residency year marked by critical care chaplaincy and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alyson Capp, PhD, is Director of Ethics for Advocate Aurora Health. She is a baptized member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and holds Doctor of Philosophy in integrative studies in ethics and theology from Loyola University Chicago. Her experiences engaging in thoughtful and faith-informed conversations about end-of-life care and completing advance directives with her grandparents, parents, and partner have encouraged her in her advocacy for advance care planning.

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A joint project of Advocate Health Care & the OCEAN-HP at the University of Illinois at Chicago.