Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Chaplaincy

As some of you know, I volunteer in a Chaplaincy at a local hospital. Technically, it's actually called the Department of Spiritual and Pastoral Care and as there are other things about it that aren't always known, I thought I would write a little about one of the settings I work in and what I do.

In short, of course, I work for God. He called me to this ministry, and it's a form of service where I help others but am also energised as a person and fed spiritually, not least because the team share ecumenical prayer at 9.30am every week before going to volunteer on the wards. At least one writer (possibly in the pastoral care or chaplaincy field, I can't believe I can't remember1) may have mentioned this, but as we move out to visit patients after this time of prayer, we are continuing our worship of God in another form; it has a beautiful continuity that I also try to practice at home, following (particularly Benedictine and Carmelite) monastic traditions. Our life in service to Him, as a prayer to God.

Practically, as well, volunteering in a ward visitor team offers fellowship and opportunities for personal, social and intellectual growth. Two wonderful women volunteers have encouraged us all, staff and volunteers, to meet for a monthly breakfast in the hospital restaurant which has helped us develop as a team. Our employers run regular reflective practice sessions as well as induction and follow up training sessions. And did I mention we pray together???!

So what does the Chaplaincy do? Ultimately, it provides an aspect of healthcare for patients at the hospital. We are believers in HOLISTIC care - this focuses on healing the whole person, not just physical symptoms - mentally, emotionally, spiritually, people need support to get well, too. There is always a Chaplain on twenty-four hour call to deal with whatever needs dealing with - a person close to death, a problem in neonatal, a member of hospital staff who needs to talk. Traditionally, nurses would fulfil at least part of this role, but in our National Health Service (NHS) in the UK today, it is recognised that paid ward staff have enough to do without having extra capacity to talk to patients - which is depressing, but, in my experience, true.And they aren't just for people of faith - Chaplains are there to listen to anybody who feel they would benefit.

However, the faith aspect is very important to the people who work there and many of the people we listen and talk to. By its very nature, being ill and/or experiencing suffering can cause people to reach out to God, reject Him, or just need some comfort through prayer. As well as the Chaplains employed at my place of work, there are, thankfully, lots of volunteers. Every time I walk into the hospital to work I am reminded of the extreme need there is for this type of work. The NHS regularly assesses whether it should sustain this type of ministry in its hospitals and it literally breaks my heart that closing the Department could one day happen.

As well as providing prayer and a listening ear, the Chaplaincy enables worship too. Regular Holy Communion services are held and the EUcharist can also be ministered at the bedside. Our Department of Spiritual and Pastoral Care is not wholly a Church concern. Various Christian denominations are represented including Free Church, Roman Catholic and Church of England. As well as the Christian ecumenical focus, we serve the hospital as a Multi-Faith Chaplaincy. In addition to a Chapel on site, there is a Mosque, Gurdwara and Mandir.  There is a higher percentage of Christian volunteers, but also of different faiths. Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim Chaplains are also available to minister to patients as well as the Christian core (trying to reflect the population admitted to the hospital).

Personally I work on children's wards, offering a service tailored to children and young people, their parents and carers. People have said to me this must be very difficult - and so it is. It is not easy to see such suffering and know that there is a lack of hope for the families involved. However, it reminds me time after time that hospital is not where you go to die, it is a place of healing, and in the majority of cases, people get well and get discharged. Additionally, the amount of sheer joy, energy and enthusiasm generated by children suffering from the most terrible of illnesses is evident on a daily basis. God is good.

So that's it, in a nutshell! It sums up what the Chaplaincy does, and I am so thankful that I can play my minor role within it, visiting patients for an hour or two every week. I regularly rejoice that God reminded me that the hospital was a place in need of me when he called me, and transformed my attitude towards the sick and the dying. What else might he be calling you to volunteer to do, that you had never considered as an earthly possibility?

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