Transaction or Transformation? How and Where to Find Urgent Spiritual Care

USA based Urgent Care Centre in Outdoor Strip Mall

Professor Joe Goldblatt

According to CNN television in the United States, as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, a record 11,000 urgent care medical centres have popped up on the high streets and are growing at a rate of 7 percent per year. The reason for this non emergency care growth is a dramatic shortage in physicians (55,000 fewer general practioners and expected to double in the next decade) and a visit to one of these centres is substantially less expensive than one to hospital accident and emergency rooms. These fast growing centres contribute $48 billion per year to the US economy.

As I witnessed this growth in transactional medical care in place of the traditional multi – generational care provided by family general practioners, I began to wonder if the same model may be evlolving within faith communities. According to the Scottish Government census of 2010 the percentage of persons who decared “no religon” was 27 percent and this has nearly doubled in the 2021 census report.

However, despite the majority of census respondents declaring no religion, I still note that when there are life cycle events individuals often desire to make contact with a religious leader to perform a ritual to mark this milestone in their life. I call these milestones the three B’s of religious ritual practice.

The first is banns. In the Scottish Christian tradition the publishing of banns (the announcement of a future marriage) was a requirement for many years. The banns would be published in the local parish church and allow anyone who read them to raise any cause about why the marriage should not take place. Therefore, if a couple wished to marry in a Christian place of worship they would require the services of an ordained minister. In recent times, the majority of weddings in Scotland are now performed by Humanist celebrants and do not require the publication of banns. However, in Australia there are currently over 9,000 non ordained wedding celebrants and over 1 million ‘one day’ certificates have been issued in the US allowing individuals to conduct a wedding.

The second milestone following marriage is usually the birth of a child (although today this often occurs prior to marriage) and the parents or partners may wish to have their child baptised, christened, or blessed in a Jewish ceremony entitled a briss or brith milah, wherein male circumcism is performed. Once again, in the Christian and Jewish faith this ceremony is conducted by an ordained minister.

A few years ago a local Jewish Rabbi asked me to participate in a pop up ceremony for an Israeli football player who was a new father. The Rabbi said that the ceremony was entitled the pidyon haben and was conducted when a first born son is redeemed with money. The redemption is attained by paying five silver coins to a kohen (a patrilineal descendant of the priestly family of Aaron), on behalf of one’s firstborn son. As I am a kohen (a member of the priestly tribe of ancient Israel) my participation was required.

The tall, muscular father handed me his son and then paid me with a few coins to redeem his child. I gladly returned the sweet little boy to his parents and then we celebrated with a wee dram of whisky. I was happy to participate in a short service that was so meaningful to this young Jewish family, although I wondered what they would have done if there had not been a willing Rabbi and kohen available to help them?

And of course the invitable third life cycle event that concludes our lives on earth is the burial ceremony. In order for an individual ro be buried in a consecrated Christian or Jewish cemetery there are specific rituals that must be performed following the death and these are conducted by an ordained minister, with assistance often being provided by volunteers from a religious community.

Therefore, in our increasingly secular world, what happens when each of these milestones confronts us and we do not have a current medical faith tradition that has historically linked us to a community where we may find support and expertise to conduct these rituals? Perhaps one model for the future may be the urgent care medical centres we see popping up all over the USA.

I wonder if there is an opportunity within faith communities to provide this type of support on a casual basis for those who no long regularly attend a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple? I also wonder what will happen to the historically tightly woven fabric of our faith communities if religous practice becomes primarily a transaction (fee or donation for service) when needed and performed by experts rather than the transformational experience offered from building long term relationships with others?

I do not know the answer. However, many years ago I do recall a 95 year old woman in a care home telling me that the milestones of her life, such as her daughter’s wedding, the birth of her first grandchild, and the death of her husband were her most sacred memories that sustained her in old age. She told me, blinking back tears, “These are the moments and memories that make my life worth living.”

Will we soon see urgent spirituality, faith, or religious centres popping up on the high street of local communities and offering instant counselling, rituals, and event blessings to those who wish to celebrate or who need comfort during a difficult time in their lives?

Regardless of what the future shall bring, one thing is for certain, the Edinburgh Interfaith Association and other similar groups may serve as a critical resource for those who seek urgent spiritual information, education, comfort, or even more. And this is just one of many reasons I am proud to lead Scotland’s oldest interfaith organanization and whether you seek an urgent transaction or a longer term transformation, you will be most welcome.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Queen Margaret University and Chair of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association. His views are his own. To find out more about us and / or to join EIFA visit

One thought on “Transaction or Transformation? How and Where to Find Urgent Spiritual Care

  • July 16, 2024 at 11:57 am

    Two weeks ago, my wife and I were fortunate to explore Jewish Edinburgh with
    Professor Goldblatt. Not only is he a font of information about the history of the Jewish community in Scotland ,but is someone actively – and frankly heroically -making a difference for the Jewish community there and those Jewish students studying in universities there from abroad who are suffering through the reverberations following October 7 th . Because the Professor is so broadly and widely revered by all in Edinburgh , and as Chair of the Interfaith Committee , his voice is respected, and he makes a real difference during these perilous times . So in the Professor, we not only learned about the Jewish community and its history , we were with someone who is truly making history in the annals of Scotland that is an experience beyond compare , which we truly will cherish always.
    I can’t recommend the Professor highly enough.


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