Thursday, January 6, 2011

Whitworth alumna featured in Hospice Foundation of America video distributed nationwide

This April, Whitworth alumna Erin (Benson) Raska, '01, will be featured in a national education video produced by the Hospice Foundation of America. The video, Spirituality and End-of-Life Care, is expected to be viewed at about 1,000 sites across the U.S.

Raska first became involved in Hospice of Spokane when she completed a chaplain internship there in 2008. She returned to fulfill part of her clinical pastoral education (CPE), compulsory as both a graduation requirement for Princeton Theological Seminary and ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Raska received special permission to complete her CPE in a hospice environment rather than in a hospital. Her choice was so unique that the Hospice Foundation of America recognized her in its new video.

Raska says one of the factors behind her decision was her own fear of death. She realized that as a pastor, she would need to spend time with families whose loved ones were dying. The purpose of completing a CPE, she says, is for future pastors to learn how to confront their own mortality, and to be present in suffering.

"I wanted to be in a hospice situation partly because I wanted to learn to appreciate and embrace death, not fear it," Raska says. "Death can be a beautiful process. It's not something to be afraid of but rather something to be embraced."

Currently, Raska and her husband Brent Raska serve as parish associates for global ministry at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, in New York City. This fellowship allowed them to spend one year in Zambia, three months in other southern African countries, and six months on the pastoral staff of their church in New York.

In Zambia, the Raskas served with TEEZ, an organization which provides theological training for lay church leaders. Raska visited a home there in which a woman was dying of AIDS. Her hospice experience enabled her to sit with the woman and comfort her instead of avoiding the situation or being uncomfortable with it.

Raska graduated from Whitworth in 2001 with majors in health fitness and physical education, and a minor in biology. She says Daman Hagerott, associate professor of kinesiology, challenged and affirmed her to excel academically. She credits professor of theology Jerry Sittser and friends involved with Young Life for encouraging her to go into ministry.

After graduation, Raska served as an intern for senior-high ministries at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, and also was a youth director for Whitworth Community Presbyterian Church. She graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2009.

Hospice is a special concept of care designed to provide comfort and support to patients and their families. Hospice offers a variety of bereavement and counseling services to families before and after a patient's death. Today there are more than 4,700 hospice programs in the United States.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Contact:

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or eproffitt@whitworth.edu.