Thursday, 1 November 2012

Hospital Visiting

Every week this year I'm spending an afternoon with the chaplaincy team in one of the hospitals in Oxford. I've wanted to work alongside a chaplain since I worked as a nursing assistant up in Aberdeen. The chaplains there were amazing. After the Piper Alpha Disaster in the North Sea the chaplains provided a safe space in the chapel where relatives could wait for news and then have someone to fall back on whatever the outcome. I found it fascinating, to see people go to the depths of human devastation time and again and still be happy, smiling people, usually with a fantastic sense of fun. It just seemed so illogical, surely being surrounded by all that suffering would harden you? That you'd lose your sense of joy in it all? But I never saw that.

I've often wondered if there is something in that. If travelling through 'The Valley of Sorrows' with people, as one of my favourite psalms puts it, really does bring a sense of peace that goes beyond all explanations. It's something I feel drawn to wherever I see it. So when the opportunity arose to do a placement in hospital I knew it was one to go for. I'm afraid of it, that's for sure, but I seem to have an irrepressible urge to go into those fearful places. As I spoke to one of the chaplains today she smiled when I said that and responded 'that's what chaplains do'. That combined with my love of being out in the world, on the cutting edge, left us mulling over if there might be some chaplaincy work in my future. Watch this space!

Today I visited the Childrens' Hospital. It's purpose built with play rooms in every ward, chill out rooms on the teenagers floor and bright colours everywhere. Of all the time I've spent in hospital this was the most upbeat and uplifting environment I've been in. Thank goodness for that for the sake of those children that call this place home whether for a few weeks of cancer treatment of an unexpected trip to surgery after a nasty fall. The bravery was palpable in the air. Heroic kids, Mums and Dads worthy of awards for just being there and keeping a smile on their face.

The chaplain was inspiring, wearing a dress covered in daisies and popping her head round the curtains to say hello, hear stories and to let people know there is someone about should they need them. We talked about her day to day, the literally life saving work of helping someone back from the emotional brink at the loss of a child. I've never seen a minister involved so much, so often, in the darkness of human experience and I couldn't help but think that if Jesus was about today that is where you'd find him. What a relief from all the infuriating technicalities and politics of church. This stuff really matters.

If you're the praying sort then do remember these kids and parents in hospital tonight, I know I will.


  1. Great work. I hoped to do hospital chaplaincy work at ARI, but in the end it didn't happen which was sad.

    Will be praying! :)

  2. I did a pastoral studies project on chaplaincy work with sick children and their families when I was doing my training, Nicola. I was deeply impressed by the chaplains I spoke to as part of my research and felt very drawn to chaplaincy work. If I'd been training for stipendiary ministry I would have been very tempted to take that path, so I completely understand the effect it's had on you.

    1. Hi Perpetua,
      Yes, a very moving experience and exciting to encounter something that I find exciting (if you see what I mean!!) Problem is I also feel very drawn to Parish life. As I have about a forty year career ahead of me though I figure I'll get a chance to do the rounds of all these things!!

      Thanks for commenting, I am always so encouraged by your responses.

      Nicola x