Personal pastoral work is one of the areas I have enjoyed most during my 40 years of commissioned Christian service.
This kind of work is not for everybody: I realise, to visit the sick, the troubled, the elderly and the dying as representatives of Jesus Christ is a rich privilege for me but will seem daunting for many. And in one sense, I certainly enjoy far more helping people prepare for Christian baptism or for marriage.
The bottom line for me has always been, Will my time with these people help them to feel closer to God, or feel attracted to God’s blueprint for their lives? What a challenge!
In 1983 I accepted the invitation of another church to come and work with them, our third appointment. I decided then that having established my basic skills I should start doing some regular in-service training (then just coming into vogue) and extend the scope of the rather narrowly focussed church work I had been doing during the first 12 years of my employed working life.
My character, past interests and the then current needs moved me towards hospital chaplaincy.
There was a small suburban hospital quite close to our new church home: it was just organising its chaplaincy service (as this was becoming mandatory for continuing accreditation), and I was welcome to join the new inter-church chaplaincy team and its regular training and periodic review sessions. This sounded like a plan, and I still believe it was part of the way God has directed my life and work.
The hospital being relatively small, a team of some 6 – 10 men and women who visited three mornings per week on a roster basis was able to provide reasonably good pastoral care for all the wards, which during the following 12 years served medical, surgical, and geriatric patients, as well as initially maternity and later palliative care patients.
Calling on people in hospital as a hospital chaplain is in some ways quite different from visiting one’s own parishioners as their pastor or priest, of course. I will always want to care for people in a Christlike manner and as representative of Jesus. But hospital chaplains also call on patients as part of the hospital’s provision of wholistic care: they are therefore free (and indeed, are expected to) extend pastoral care to all patients, respectful of any background, faith or creed. I’m glad that in my experience very, very few patients rejected my approaches.
Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) consists of numerous modules introducing a wide scope of hospital chaplaincy work. Chaplains are encouraged and even expected to continue with the more in-depth and extensive CPE courses.
At the regular consultation/workshop sections in which I participated in the 1980s and ‘90s, one or two chaplains typically presented a verbatim report on one of their interactions, which was then reviewed by the trainer and group: a very instructive time.
Hospital chaplaincy work and the local Christian Ministry Circle were valuable “windows” for me, particularly during these years. I was working in a fairly large church congregation (by Australian standards) but it was quite isolated from the other churches of the federation – which was in itself a very small entity. So there was little opportunity for valuable interaction among colleagues of the same stripe, making regular local Christian collegial friendship, interaction, joint work and training rather important.
Looking back, it is clear that the chaplaincy work I embarked on in 1983 has become a valuable, loved, and rewarding part of my life and work. My chaplaincy workt has adapted to changing circumstances and opportunities over the past 30 years, but remains integral to what I do and who I am.
The weekly ABC-TV Compass program looks at Chaplaincy over the next few Sundays (6:30 pm).