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Blessing of Hands Honors Nurses' Healing Touch

Monday May 9, 2005
Pastor McClure anoints the hands of Fe Victorino, RN, at Washington Adventist Hospital's Blessing of the Hands celebration during Nurses Week in May 2004.
Pastor McClure anoints the hands of Fe Victorino, RN, at Washington Adventist Hospital's Blessing of the Hands celebration during Nurses Week in May 2004.
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Washington Adventist Hospital's annual Nurses Week event continues to grow in popularity

Gold, frankincense, myrrh. Considered valuable commodities and rare treasures in ancient times, they have come through the ages to represent spiritual gifts of the highest esteem.
The special symbolism of myrrh is used to pay homage to nurses in the annual Blessing of the Hands ceremony, celebrating Nurses Week at Washington Adventist Hospital, Washington, D.C. For the ceremony, the unique aromatic oil is applied to anoint and bless the hands of nurses and to embody the great significance of their role in healing.
"We want to show our nurses that our hospital values them," says Phyllis McElmurry, RN, MS, vice president and chief nursing officer. "The ceremony recognizes the tremendous work undertaken by nurses and the sacredness that they bring to our patients, their loved ones, and to our hospital."
Since its inception several years ago, the service has become a popular tradition each May. This year, the ceremony will include an address to the nurses by McElmurry, a spiritual celebration in song and music, and the anointing and blessing of nurses' hands by Pastor Charlotte McClure.
McClure chooses myrrh as the anointing oil not only because of its significant symbolism, but also so nurses can experience the blessing through scent, as well as sight, sound, and touch.
"We use our hands every day in our ministry of healing," says Priscilla Day, RN, CCRN, staff nurse, unit 1500/cardiovascular surgical intensive care unit. "Having them anointed and blessed reaffirms that we do God's work with our hands."
Although Day considers herself a spiritual person who does not seek out religious ritual, she has become enthusiastic about her involvement with planning the Blessing of the Hands event. "I felt the connection and was moved," she says. "It is a way that care can be given back to us as nurses."
The annual festivities also include a blessing of food followed by a prayer breakfast. In addition, participants have the opportunity to create special intentions for loved ones by writing their names and needs on paper, which is given to Pastor McClure. The pastor will then dedicate a service at her home church to those intentions, as she has done in the past.
Another goal of the occasion is to honor the spiritual role of nursing in a nondenominational manner. Nurses of all backgrounds are welcome, and the event attracts nurses from a wide variety of cultures and religions. Nurses representing Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Muslim, and Seventh-Day Adventist, among other religions, have all attended the ceremony in the past.
The Blessing of the Hands is held at the change of shift so that as many nurses as possible, including those who work the night shift, have the opportunity to participate. As testimony to the popularity of the event, nurses often arrange trades with other staff members in order to participate. In fact, the event is so popular that the hospital chapel cannot accommodate the crowd, and the service must be conducted in a large conference room.
"Nurses seek out this experience," says McElmurry. "They wait in long lines to have their hands blessed. It is touching to see the staff rededicate their commitment to caring."
The hospital staff has been tremendously supportive and has offered no opposition to the faith-based ceremony. "We are a Christian-based organization, and we want to honor that, but we do not want to impose it," says McElmurry. "We recognize the value of spirituality and, therefore, are sensitive to and respectful of diversity."
McElmurry believes that respect, acceptance, and the healing power of touch go hand in hand. "In touching patients, nurses are conveying love and acceptance," says McElmurry. "Nurses also need to be touched to enable them to pass the blessing on to their patients."