As the spring arrives, the central mane of grass and hedging down the centre of the motorway that leads from Dublin to Cork has taken on a faint green hue. For the past 11 weeks myself and a colleague have driven this route each Monday, to attend a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) course in Northridge House on the grounds of St. Luke’s Hospital, Mahon. The course has been run and supervised by Rev. Bruce Pierce, a remarkable mentor whose heart clearly lies in teaching and in the accompaniment of those who are ill or dying.
I have come to realise a certain type of ministry within the past weeks. Sitting by the side of a patient’s bed is entirely different from leading a service, for obvious reasons and one never knows what one may encounter on the other side of a door. Yet here, as Chaplains, can be witnesses to the most incredible life stories and deep recognitions of a person’s own self. Here we can sit silently with the vulnerable and wait allowing a person to speak to someone who they do not know, someone they may never see again and therefore in such a way that they may not have spoken to a loved one or a specialist.
The CPE course invited us to recognise our own losses; the things that may have happened us along our life’s journey that may have reduced our self-esteem or even muted our own voices. I have watched the little group of six people expand through honest recognition of themselves over these past weeks and grow into strong and able chaplains-in-training. The emphasis is always and entirely upon the other patient, yet if we can sit in our own difficulties or memories, comfortable in the uncomfortable, we are far better able to sit in other’s dilemmas. I leave this course with a hint of sadness at its completion having grown more within myself in these past months than in a lifetime. Chaplaincy is a gift offered to those in difficult situations. It is the gift of silence and accompaniment where the patient leads the dance and always and only on their own terms. For all our thoughts about attendance declining in places within the walls of church, Chaplaincy, when practiced correctly, can offer a person a new connection, perhaps long forgotten, at a time when it is needed most. One Chaplain said to me recently “I learn more about God from the people I visit than any other source in my life. Through them I see the face of Christ in all their various lives and experiences.”
May God bless and sustain all those who give their lives to the skill and compassion of Chaplaincy, through which a glimpse of the presence of Christ may be caught in gentle silences and the most unexpected circumstances.