The LGBTQ+ Chaplain Residency: A Legacy of Affirming Spiritual Care

Learn how Hebrew SeniorLife’s LGBTQ+ chaplain residency supports patients, residents, staff, and families.

Author: Miriam Priven
Senior Living LGBTQ+Community

Whose job is it to organize Pride celebrations, LGBTQ+ poetry readings, support circles for grandparents of transgender youth, and support LGBTQ+ patients and residents with their unique experiences of aging at Hebrew SeniorLife? Well, the LGBTQ+ chaplain resident, of course!

It’s been over five years since we shared this blog post about Hebrew SeniorLife’s LGBTQ+ Chaplain Residency. Hebrew SeniorLife has had a deep commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusive care for a long time, beginning with staff trainings in 2015.  Since 2018, we have been able to offer the LGBTQ+ chaplain resident position thanks to ongoing grant funding from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

In addition to participating in Hebrew SeniorLife’s Clinical Pastoral Education program for chaplains in training, the LGBTQ+ chaplain resident is tasked with creating meaningful programming and support for LGBTQ+ patients, residents, staff, and families. The connection of chaplaincy and LGBTQ+ work is important to us: As faith communities have often been sites of harm or isolation for some LGBTQ+ people, it is our responsibility in spiritual care to create new, affirming possibilities for LGBTQ+ elders.

LGBTQ+ people living and receiving care at Hebrew SeniorLife deserve affirming and competent spiritual support that can help them access their inner resources as they navigate the challenges of aging. Our unique focus on LGBTQ+ aging also means that every CPE student leaves with training on LGBTQ+ spiritual care, which they bring to their workplaces, schools, and congregations.

In the beginning, the LGBTQ+ chaplain resident hosted film screenings and discussions on LGBTQ+ topics at several Hebrew SeniorLife campuses, created awareness activities for Black History, Women’s History, Pride, and LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Months, and held Hebrew SeniorLife’s first-ever Pride concert featuring an Elton John impersonator! The impact was immediately felt, with LGBTQ+ patients, residents, and staff sharing that they appreciated and enjoyed these efforts, and that they felt more comfortable as a result.

Since then, our LGBTQ+ chaplain residents have built on these programs tenfold. Here are just a few highlights:

  • Bringing patients, residents and staff to Boston Pride — every year this is such a joyous occasion for LGBTQ+ seniors, those who have LGBTQ+ family members, and allies to feel the thriving and powerful wider rainbow community that they are a part of. One year, staff and residents collaborated to create dozens of rainbow potholders to give out at the event. How special it was for the many queer and trans youth in attendance to receive a gift that was handmade by an LGBTQ+ elder!
  • Hosting pride events at each of the Hebrew SeniorLife sites every June, from parties to educational and arts events.
  • Starting a regular LGBTQ+ staff lunch at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale, where LGBTQ+ staff who work in different departments can get to know one another and come together as a community every month.
  • Supporting LGBTQ+ Soul Search at Center Communities of Brookline’s Diane and Mark Goldman Family Residences. This is a monthly LGBTQ+ topics group that offers everything from poetry readings to discussions of current events, all relating to LGBTQ+ identities. 
  • Requiring LGBTQ+ Aging Training for all Hebrew SeniorLife staff and volunteers that details some of the history that LGBTQ+ elders have lived through in the U.S. and teaches best practices for LGBTQ+ elder-care work.
  • Featuring amazing LGBTQ+ speakers including Abby Stein, a transgender rabbi whose first-ever appearance in Boston was at Hebrew SeniorLife, and Nick Teich, founder of Harbor Camps for trans and gender-expansive youth, whose program attracted over 100 residents at the NewBridge on the Charles campus in Dedham, MA, in 2023. His presentation inspired residents to start an LGBTQ+ discussion group specially focused on grandparenting trans grandchildren.  
  • Including Under the Rainbow, a column dedicated to LGBTQ+ topics relevant to residents written by Jack Satter House Programming and Administrative Coordinator Lisa Meola, in the Satter House’s monthly newsletter.

As the program grows, our guiding goals are that:

  1. LGBTQ+ residents and patients feel comfortable, welcomed, and engaged. LGBTQ+ life and culture are considered part of the norm at Hebrew SeniorLife and are embedded as part of our regular programming.
  2. LGBTQ+ staff feel supported, safe, and connected at work.
  3. Parents and grandparents of LGBTQ+ children and grandchildren have peer and staff support as they navigate their roles and relationships. 

A new focus for us is supporting grandparents of trans children. One of Hebrew SeniorLife’s values is to “Ask What Matters” to residents and patients and to use that to guide our services. We’ve heard a desire from nearly every campus to learn and connect over the shared experience of having trans and gender-nonconforming grandchildren, and we are excited to be creating new programming to respond to this growing demand.

Learn more about Hebrew SeniorLife’s Clinical Pastoral Education Program, which is the country’s only Jewish geriatric CPE program accredited by The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc. We provide geriatric-focused spiritual care training for seminary students of many faiths, future clergy seeking spiritual care skills, and aspiring or current health care chaplains. 

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Spiritual Care Education

Hebrew SeniorLife's Clinical Pastoral Education program provides geriatric-focused spiritual care training for seminary students of many faiths, future clergy seeking spiritual care skills, and aspiring or current health care chaplains.

Chaplain sits with white-haired woman, laughing together

Spiritual Care Programs

Spiritual care programming is an important part of life on every Hebrew SeniorLife campus, with a full team of interfaith chaplains available to connect each resident, patient, and family member with the spiritual resources that resonate most for them.

Innovation at HSL

Whether we're making discoveries or developing new teaching methods, HSL continuously works to improve the lives of older adults.

An elder woman participates in Marcus Institute research by getting her brain stimulated

About Miriam Priven

Miriam Priven is the LGBTQ+ chaplain resident at Hebrew SeniorLife.

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