As a rule Stand Firm tends to focus on theology, apologetics, and current Anglican affairs. We tend not to post things like what you will read below since if we were to make a habit of it there would be no end to the needs to be met and posts to be made. But the Rev. DeVantier is a faithful deacon and good friend of Stand Firm and his case seems one that has great relevance for religious liberty and, more important, the pastoral care of the dying so we have made an exception in this case. Please pray for Deacon DeVantier and for his former employers that they might relent and make this right. (Matt Kennedy)
Friday, July 28th, was in many ways just like any other summer morning. After a brief 15-minute online meeting I went to work, only eight minutes away. I arrived slightly after 9am for a meeting with my supervisor, Stephanie Adair, the Regional Hospice Administrator for Liberty Homecare & Hospice. Ordinarily, she would be at her home office in Wilmington, NC, but since Liberty Homecare & Hospice was opening a new hospice office in Jacksonville, NC she had been visiting the Jacksonville office more frequently.
I felt confident that morning. I was thriving in my new job as a hospice chaplain. I had spent the past few months shadowing two other hospice chaplains, receiving only positive feedback. Ministering with those so often isolated and left alone, the sick, the elderly, those who are terminally ill, and more can be heart-wrenching but sharing the love and light of Christ with these dear people is more than worth the trouble. It was my greatest joy to anoint the heads of my patients, pray for them, sing to them, read scripture to them, and offer them communion. I believe that I was made for this ministry.
As I sat down for this meeting my boss looked me in the eye and said “We had a meeting with upper management and it is the consensus to let you go.” I was shocked and devastated. When I asked for a reason, her reply was “It’s just not gonna work out” and “we feel like your ideals don’t align with Liberty’s ideals and policies and you would be suited for a position somewhere else.”
This was not how I expected this meeting to go. A week earlier, on July 21 at 2:42pm, I received the following in an email from Ms. Adair:
“Good evening. Just to recap what we discussed this morning. The more I think about the use of a real alcoholic beverage for communion the more I’m against it. For one thing we need a doctor’s order to give patients an alcoholic beverage because it can interfere with their medication metabolism and can affect their disease process. So effective immediately please refrain from using the alcoholic beverage. I have ordered communion kits which should be delivered this weekend. They consist of grape juice and a wafer. You must also refrain from drinking the alcoholic beverage while on duty. Please allow the patients to request communion. We never want our patients or families to feel pressured to participate in a ritual. Remember, separate your belief system from the patient and/ or caregiver and assess their belief system to establish a common ground. It is the patient’s plan of care not ours.”
Upon receiving this email I Immediately forwarded it to the non-military endorsing chaplain for my church body (the United Episcopal Church in North America) and to the military endorsing chaplain as well.
The UECNA Endorsing Chaplains published a rebuttal which can be found here. I’ve summarized the points made below:
1. It is untrue that you need a doctor’s order to take or offer sacramental wine to patients. No doctor in the United States has the authority even to recommend that a patient not receive sacramental wine.
2. The amount of sacramental wine taken by a patient during Holy Communion is medically insignificant. In hospice and hospital settings a small “travel” chalice is used. My travel chalice only holds 3oz of sacramental wine. I only fill it half full. The patient, however, never drinks from the chalice. He or she “intincts” or dips a thin wafer of unleavened bread briefly into the sacramental wine and then immediately consumes it. The patient consumes on average less than 1/4 tsp or 1.25ml of sacramental wine.
3. Ms. Adair and Liberty Homecare and Hospice do not have the legal right to forbid a chaplain from partaking in the sacrament of Holy Communion with a patient or from consuming the remaining sacramental wine in the chalice. This particular chalice holds, again, only 3.5 oz and is only half full. This is less than 1/5 of a glass of wine. The Constitution and Canons of my denomination and the Book of Common Prayer require the Celebrant (the person giving Communion) to not only partake with those receiving but also consume any remaining sacramental bread and wine.
4. Every patient who enters hospice care has the option to choose chaplain services. Once a patient’s needs are evaluated, a chaplain may pray, sing, read from scripture, and/or offer Communion at any time during a visitation.
After receiving her email and consulting with my relevant chaplain endorsers, I sent an email to Ms. Adair on Monday, July 24th explaining my position and the position of my church body (You can read the email here).
I heard nothing from Ms. Adair for a couple of days so I sent a follow-up email asking whether she had had a chance to look over and consider my email. She responded that she did and that it would be discussed at a managerial meeting that Thursday, July 27th.
The next day I was terminated. I had not had any reprimand or censure at Liberty apart from the above dispute over Communion. The link between that dispute and my termination seems clear.
After a weekend of prayer and consultation with wiser heads than my own, I sent a formal complaint to the Human Resources Department of Liberty Homecare & Hospice detailing the various legal violations that had occurred. I forwarded emails and provided first-hand documentation, hoping that my termination might be rescinded and that I might be reconciled with Liberty and Ms. Adair.
Liberty Homecare & Hospice has, in the subsequent weeks, remained unresponsive. My emails have gone unanswered, my repeated requests for a copy of my personnel file have been ignored, and it is becoming sadly apparent that Liberty would prefer not to deal with this matter in the hope that I move on.
I do not believe that I can in good conscience do that. If Ms. Adair’s policy of forbidding Communion wine to patients and priests goes unchallenged, then many sick and dying people will be kept not only from the free exercise of their religion but from the comfort and consolation provided by the Sacrament. This is why I have decided to legally challenge my termination.
I am writing this, first, to ask for your prayers: that God might open hearts and minds at Liberty Homecare & Hospice and that he might give me the strength to speak and act with love for all and with fidelity toward Christ and his Gospel.
Secondly, if you are willing and able, please share this story. The more light and accountability that is shed on this case, the more difficult it will be for Liberty to remain unresponsive. If you feel strongly, please email Liberty Homecare & Hospice and express your thoughts.
Finally, if you feel inclined to partner with me financially in this fight you may do so by clicking the relevant link below.
It is still my hope that Liberty Homecare & Hospice will do the right and honorable thing. But if that does not happen, for all the reasons explained above, I feel it is my duty and responsibility to seek legal recourse.
The Reverend Justin Darrell DeVantier
Curate, Holyrood Anglican Church
The GoFundMe Link for legal expenses can be found here.