Healthcare Chaplaincy 101 – Part 2

Read Healthcare Chaplaincy – Part 1 first!

Among the people John saw on the day we spoke was a Christian believer who had been in an accident and wanted a pastor;  the mother and girlfriend of an unconscious native man to whom John provided space and materials for them to do a native smudging ceremony; a woman with a Roman Catholic background and a strong living faith who needed encouragement; the wife and brother of a cardiac patient who was not at all religious; and a Christian who had no one in her life.   

So how did these people land on John’s schedule?  Well, he doesn’t go knocking on patients’ doors.  He is asked for or referred by the social workers and clinicians who know what he’s looking for, “I’m after the person who is the most discombobulated, unhappy person in their unit who is making life hard for the nurses and other staff.  They are obviously in spiritual distress, and those are the people I want to connect with.”

John often introduces himself to patients this way, “Don’t worry about the fact that I’m a chaplain.  Half our patients are not religious and I’m the only one on the care team who doesn’t stick something in, pull something out or measure.”  John typically gets a laugh, and the patients relax, “They know that I have a sense of humour, and the doors are opened.”

For John, the most challenging part of his job is, “The person who is clearly in deep spiritual distress, and creates high distress on the unit which is hard for the whole care team, and the other patients. The person whose worldview doesn’t have any openness or relationship to anyone else.  They aren’t open, and I can’t get into their lives.  The other thing that is hard is when you’ve become attached to someone, and they die, or there is a bad reversal.  It’s a loss for me too.”

The most rewarding aspect of John’s job, “When someone comes here in high spiritual distress, and they develop a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.  And when someone who has not been open to faith comes to faith or has a memory of faith that becomes real and deep. Those things are so fulfilling.”

“I get a great deal of satisfaction from my job.  The patients and staff give me so much.  There is drain but there is also a balance.  I have a great home life.  Working in my shop, building things and being outside.  Reading, writing and sharing recharge me.”

Last September John became ill with a nearly fatal lung infection.  After a month in the hospital, he has been recovering.  In January he began the process of gradually returning to work.  He expects to be back to full-time work in April.  He and Ruth are extremely grateful for the great number of Canadian Free Methodists who prayed for them through this time.