We spend a day on the wards with Rev Stuart Adamson, one of ten accredited chaplains of different faiths and denominations at Prince of Wales and Randwick Hospitals Campus in Sydney. He is one of three Anglican chaplains and has a twin role as a chaplain and a trainer of chaplains at Anglicare.
I’m usually up before my alarm. But I am on after hours on-call at the moment and when the alarm goes off at 6.45 am I feel pinned to the bed. The call-out last night wasn’t all that late, but it was just as I was going to bed. A social worker at emergency called me because a lady in her 90s had just died and the daughter asked for someone to come and pray with her.
I live nearby so it doesn’t take me long to get there. When I go into the room there are two women and three police officers around the bed asking questions, trying to work out if the woman’s death needs to be referred to the coroner’s office. The police kindly leave the room when I arrive.
When the alarm goes off at 6.45 am I feel pinned to the bed. The call-out last night wasn’t all that late, but it was just as I was going to bed.
The daughter and her friend are a little bit anxious, so I let them talk things out. The daughter tells me her mum stopped going to church years ago due to infirmity and the fact that she could no longer hear the sermons. “But she would want you here,” she said. I wonder how many others have had her experience. We talk for a time, and pray. But it is not time to get into a long conversation. It is 10.45 pm, ED [Emergency Department] is buzzing and the police need to ask more questions.
Stuart Adamson in the chapel at Prince of Wales Hospital.
In the morning I reach the hospital about 7.45 am, a bit earlier than usual. I start by going into the chapel near the foyer, which is open to all the faiths. Muslims use it for daily prayer, Jews use it for festivals, Catholics and Anglicans for services and prayer. There’s a book with hundreds of prayers in it written by patients and staff. Chaplains come here regularly, read the prayers and pray for the people who have written in it. Today there is a beautiful prayer from a woman thanking Jesus for creating “a whole new reality” in her life “free from regret.”
Then it’s time to sign into the office. I print the patient lists and look over them, spotting new critical patients, patients who have been in for a while and patients in wards that may not have been visited recently.
Today there is a beautiful prayer from a woman thanking Jesus for creating “a whole new reality” in her life “free from regret.”
Then it’s 30 minutes of chat, coffee and prayer with the volunteers. Normally we have five or six “vollies”, who have all been trained through our Anglicare chaplaincy courses, but today we only have two, Rossie and Louise. After praying that the Holy Spirit would go before us today, I give them the lists of patients who have said on admission they would be happy to be visited, and tick those to follow up.
We’re blessed that the hospital views chaplaincy as a key part of holistic care and recognises research that indicates patients who receive pastoral and spiritual care are more likely to get well and go home sooner.
All of us are trained to engage sensitively with people who may not identify with any particular faith.
The chaplaincy department rightly recognises that while we may all be human, each chaplain of each faith needs to have the freedom to operate out of their particular faith tradition. While we work together really well, we have clearly defined chaplaincy groups. So if during discussion with a patient I realise they identify with a different faith group, then I’ll make a referral. As other chaplains would for me. At the same time, all of us are trained to engage sensitively with people who may not identify with any particular faith.
Today my first visit is to Gary in the renal ward. He is a bit of a frequent flier. He’s in a good mood, and is making jokes, but we’ve had some rough times over the past six or so years. He’s a diabetic and in that time he’s had two leg amputations, several strokes, had a stent put in his heart and he’s just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He’s been in just about every ward in this place and had a number of close shaves, but he came to faith in the rehab ward about four years ago. We’ve had a lot of conversations and read about half of Mark’s Gospel together. He really loved it and engaged with it thoughtfully with all his life experience, though not a great deal of education behind him. Last year we thought he wouldn’t see his first granddaughter born and he was really down, but he’s in a different place now.