The Changing Nature of Women’s Spirituality

RIA study examines how women’s spiritual needs evolve over time

By Kristian Partington

Ensuring a strong quality of life for people living in a retirement or long-term care community requires caregivers to be flexible and adaptable as they seek to meet individual needs that continue to grow in complexity. There are the obvious physical needs that must be met in terms of health and mobility, but other needs in the emotional, mental and spiritual realms may not be so easy to identify.

When it comes to spiritual fulfillment among women who lived through the dramatic cultural shifts of the late 1960s and 70s, for example, perhaps the typical chapel services offered in many long term care homes will no longer be the most viable option.

A study currently underway, launched by the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging and Conrad Grebel University College seeks to address this very question of the changing nature of women’s spirituality. “Not only did the women’s movement shape society and move it in a different direction, but a lot was going on spiritually with women at that time as well,” says Marianne Mellinger, Coordinator of Applied Studies and Theological Studies at Conrad Grebel University College and the lead researcher on the project.

“Many women left the church altogether; it was the time of women’s ordination in Protestant denominations and women taking a more active role. There were a lot of women’s ritual groups that started or even, in the Catholic Church, where women couldn’t be ordained, there were many groups that formed ‘para’ church organizations, parallel to the church.”

By interviewing several different women in two age brackets – one group who came of age prior to the commencement of the women’s movement and those who grew into the think of it – Marianne hopes to discover what future spiritual caregivers might expect as female baby boomers begin to take up residence in long-term care or retirement environments. 

“What is important to these women as they grow older and how does that change the spiritual practices and programs that are offered in our continuing care environments?” Marianne asks. “What do we need to learn from these women to prepare for the next generation?”

Marianne hopes to complete her interviews this summer, both in the community and in Schlegel Villages. For more information please contact Kristian at