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Chaplain Peggy Kelley Answered the Call to Spiritual Care and Reiki

Divine Intervention and a Sad Six-Year-Old Led the Rev. Peggy Kelley to Become Lead Christian Chaplain at Cedars-Sinai and a Reiki Master

The Rev. Peggy Kelley, MDiv, didn't set out to become the lead Christian chaplain of Spiritual Care Services at Cedars-Sinai, nor did she intend on creating a popular reiki program within the medical center. But divine intervention and a sad 6-year-old led her to both healing roles.

Kelley first moved to Los Angeles from Minnesota in 2001 to pursue a career as an actress and comedian. Between her comedy and improv, Kelley taught Sunday school for young children.

"I was teaching Sunday school after 9/11 happened," said Kelley, who has worked at Cedars-Sinai for more than eight years. "These kids were truly changed by this terrible event, and one particular 6-year-old had a real existential crisis. She had so many heartfelt questions for me, which were beyond any answer really."

Kelley recalls the young girl asking, "Can God fix this hate?" Her peers had similarly profound questions, too—questions like, "Is God sad too?" and "Am I safe?"

The questions put the one-time aspiring comedian on a path to becoming a professional chaplain. And while it may seem that her original plans in entertainment were unconnected to her new career, the performance skills have helped her greatly.

"This work is all improv really," said Kelley. "You must be vulnerable enough to stay present, embrace and deeply listen to your intuition and meet people right where they are—becoming a safe place for patients, loved ones and staff to dig in, fall, cry and sometimes even laugh. A sense of humor and comedy are wonderful tools for resilience and joy."

One of Kelley’s other tools is reiki, a Japanese healing technique that uses touch to activate the body's healing processes and restore physical and emotional health.

“At its core, reiki is a relaxation technique—a spiritual massage, if you will—not assigned to any particular faith,” said Kelley. “You can perform reiki on yourself or on others. There are seven hand positions used in reiki and each covers a chakra, or energy center in the body, which connects to us emotionally, spiritually and physically."

Reiki first came to Cedars-Sinai when a patient asked if it could be performed on them. Kelley consulted with Jason Weiner, BCC, senior rabbi and director of Spiritual Care Services, to discuss its potential. Rabbi Weiner also consulted with various rabbinic leaders and mentors to ensure it was appropriate to offer to patients.

Since then, the program has grown exponentially--and entirely by word-of-mouth.

“It's been such a fabulous journey, and I am thrilled with the response we get from patients and staff,” said Kelley. “Some patients tell me that after reiki they get the first good sleep they have had in days. Others report less anxiety and more peace and self-connection.”

Today, the Cedars-Sinai chaplain staff visits about 80 patients each month to provide reiki services, and sessions are tailored to a patient's needs and are not intended to be a replacement for medical treatment. Another 11 members of the spiritual care team also perform reiki, as do several dedicated volunteers.

The collective reiki team also regularly performs the technique on employees when they are feeling overwhelmed and stressed-out. 

“There have been countless medical studies on the benefits of reiki,” said Kelley. “At Cedars-Sinai, reiki is used for relaxation. It's a simple technique you can do to promote a sense of peace, security and wellbeing. Reiki can help patients and staff with acute panic, restlessness and even pain.”