Pop into University Hospital North Durham on Monday afternoons and you will find me spending time with the staff and patients on one of the wards, as part of my placement with the Chaplaincy Team. Do not be surprised to find me on my knees at the patient’s bedside, laughing with the patients, or singing hymns with them – this is the nature of the job!
University Hospital North Durham has a team of different chaplains and volunteer chaplains who serve the needs of patients, the families of those patients, and also the staff on the various units. This is a stressful environment in which to work. Sometimes chaplaincy is involved in happy events such as Christmas carol celebrations, but often it is the more difficult times of someone’s life – spending time with those who are critically ill or dying. This presents a challenge not only in meeting the needs of the patient and their family, but also in maintaining our own spiritual and emotional health.
When I begin my placement at the hospital, I spend lots of my time in reading the Bible and prayer for provision of God’s grace, wisdom, strength and guidance to the patients and families who need my help. Many times when I enter a patient’s room or walk to their bedside, I take a deep breath to centre myself and prepare for the work – my function is to create a sacred space within which God can be at work.
During my time with a patient or their family, one of the greatest things that they need is to have their story heard, to share their fears, and to receive comforting words of hope and faith. This is where the gift of listening is so valuable. Sometimes no words are possible because the grief is too intense for words of any kind. Sometimes it is a ministry without words or actions other than a comforting hand or a quiet presence that can support a family or a patient at that moment of crisis. Such moments require no discussion of faith, simply a human touch that says “I understand, I am with you.”