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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 28  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 114-115

Gentle rebel: The life and work of Granger Westberg, pioneer in whole person care

National Center for Rural Health Professions, University of Illinois College of Medicine - Rockford, USA

Date of Web Publication31-Jul-2015

Correspondence Address:
Karen E Peters
National Center for Rural Health Professions, University of Illinois College of Medicine - Rockford
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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How to cite this article:
Peters KE. Gentle rebel: The life and work of Granger Westberg, pioneer in whole person care. Educ Health 2015;28:114-5

How to cite this URL:
Peters KE. Gentle rebel: The life and work of Granger Westberg, pioneer in whole person care. Educ Health [serial online] 2015 [cited 2023 Jun 7];28:114-5. Available from:

Jane Westberg, Jill Westberg McNamara
Church Health, Memphis Tennessee (2015),
300 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-62144-049-9

"…In particular I was intrigued about the possibility of a physician and minister serving as a team in caring for people. It was a shame I hadn't known about all of this…" On a train ride in 1938, Granger Westberg, a young seminarian, began to make the connection between health and faith, particularly in the opportunities that ministers have to encourage "…the growth of souls at a time when pain, sorrow, frustration and surprise bring experiences that invite a new start in life."

The book, Gentle Rebel: The Life and Work of Granger Westberg, Pioneer in Whole Person Care, recounts the remarkable life of Granger Westberg (1913-1999) a theologian and pioneer in clinical pastoral or 'whole person' care. This work reads nearly as autobiography (many of the passages are in Westberg's voice) but was written by his daughters Jane Westberg and Jill Westberg McNamara from an extensive collection of audiotaped accounts, published articles, photographs, unpublished manuscripts and handwritten notes as well as interviews with Westberg's colleagues and library research.

Born in Chicago in1913, Granger Westberg grew up in a strong faith family, attending church on Sundays, listening to church music, participating in church-sponsored activities and talking with and learning from clergy. Knowing that he wanted to become a minister early on in life, Westberg found ways to support himself to attend college and then seminary. He eventually married and had four children.

Westberg's journey to creating a vision for whole person care began during a one week assignment as a hospital chaplain to 'carry on its ministry of healing.' In one of his first encounters with physicians in the hospital, a resident physician said to Granger: "Church? Its ministry of healing? The doctors do all of the healing around here."… "I sewed up a wound. What did you do chaplain?" Westberg was not deterred by these comments and as he continued to visit patients during that week he "sensed that there were tremendous opportunities in the hospital setting where people were asking essentially theological questions which related to the meaning of life." In a rather insightful comment Westberg wrote "…when people are lying horizontally in a hospital, they begin to think about the vertical dimension of life." Following his one week stint at the hospital, Westberg commented that having clergy regularly available in hospital settings would "…give visible evidence of the importance of spiritual care; cause our nurses to see that the services of clergymen and doctors are of equal importance." This was the beginning of Westberg's vision of a team approach to care because he had "…a vague feeling that somehow the physician and the minister belonged together." In order for this vision to be accomplished Westberg established the first clinical training center for pastoral interns where they could gain exposure to working with hospital patients. Gentle Rebel goes on to document Westberg's development of curricula and programs focused on the integration of clinical and pastoral care and the 'religious aspects of illness.'

Of particular interest to readers of this journal might be one of Westberg's curricular principles: Interprofessional Relationship. The Interprofessional relationship curriculum was taught through the case study approach in seminars for physicians and clergymen who were in the same classrooms learning together. The goal was to make clear that physicians should consider the underlying religious needs of their patients and clergy should consider how the physical health status of a patient impacts upon their attitudes toward religion. The courses and programs that Westberg helped to establish helped to initiate the whole person care movement. There was a growing recognition within the academic medical and theological disciplines that treating patients in their 'totality' (including the spiritual) gives patients "…those spiritual strengths which the doctor recognizes to be so necessary in any health or growth process." It is worthwhile to note that Westberg's vision of whole person care was not predicated on the physician-clergymen dyad alone but in fact involved trandisciplinary teams including nurses, mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, community psychologists, lawyers, social workers and educators. Also of note, while Westberg was trained as a Protestant (Lutheran) minister, the role he envisioned for the clergy was inclusive of all religious traditions.

Westberg also realized that theory and practice go hand in hand and in addition to the numerous innovative curricular ideas he implemented, he was also pioneering in his use of experiential and action learning to help make practical what was being taught in the classroom. Westberg was instrumental in participating in the 'free clinic' movement and infusing such efforts with a whole person care perspective. He established the first Wholistic Health Center (WHC) in Ohio in 1970 as a church clinic in which he saw the potential for not only the availability of 'empty' church building space during the week but also the availability of church members, health professions and theology students and the community to engage in whole person care. The WHC became a movement in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s incorporating social services in addition to clinical care - with the intent that all staff 'participate in seeing patients in settings devoted to wholism.'

Another of Westberg's visions for transforming churches to 'clinics for both spiritual souls and physical bodies' was to create what is now known as the Parish Nurse Program or 'nurse-in-the-church.' This idea originated from a recognition that for some churches establishing a WHC might be prohibitive due to lack of financial commitment and/or physical space for such an endeavor. The idea of the Parish Nurse Program was that a nurse could be given the role of a 'minister of health' on the parish staff and the work would be dictated by the needs of the congregation and the community. Today, this is known as the parish nurse movement and exists in nearly 30 countries.

Gentle Rebel is a work that provides keen insight into a man of great faith and deep commitment to promoting the natural linkage of the 'healing arts' that we commonly think of as faith and health. Through these pages you will be inspired by Granger Westberg's life circumstances, understated humor and undeterred optimism. Many of his legacies remain alive through the work of our Network: Towards Unity for Health!


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