I am sitting in the hospital chapel in the stillness as the shift change takes place on this New Years Eve. A steady, silent, silhouetted procession of staff come and go. Some ending their shift and coming in to light a candle and say a prayer as they leave the hospital and the old year behind and go home to family, friends and a quiet night in or a drink with colleagues. Others starting their night shift, one that will see out the old year and welcome the new. Patients to care for and families and staff to support in the silent hours of the night.I frequently sit here, in the semi darkness, in the shadows, in this familiar house of prayer, pondering what I do and why. As one year rolls into another, I do so again.As a priest serving as a chaplain in the NHS. I am often struck by the deeds and words of all whom I meet; of all faiths and beliefs, religious and not. It is a privilege to see what gives the shape and meaning to someone else’s life.My vocation is to serve patients and those important to them, as well as my colleagues. I have come to know over these many years now that I am there first and foremost to listen, and allow space for them to explore their humanity, their spirituality, their beliefs and values. Perhaps that is all and fully what I am called to do. I am not there to “sell my wares” nor to convince people of my faith. If people ask me to talk about faith or want religious care then of course I am happy to do so. But mostly i am simply called to be present, to ‘be there’ to hold, to smile, to weep, to be.This afternoon, my pager went off disturbing my cuppa like a siren in a silent street. I am called to A&E, two lives have ended suddenly, devastatingly, one almost hardly begun. Etched on the faces of family and colleagues is the horror of it all and here I am…to be.I don’t have easy answers, and wouldn’t give voice to them if I had, nor do I seek to claim what those mourning should think or feel. It is their journey and one for them to travel privately or to share as seems right for them. I anoint and pray and bless. With one hand I gently touch the dead, with my other I hold the hand of the living, grieving ones as they wail in disbelief, anguish and life-sapping pain. Where is the hope here?After some minutes of simply being there I offer myself and my Team to the family….”any time, for anything, we are here” and I leave.In the chapel I am surrounded by the fullness of the Christian faith in one view; the altar, the crib, the tabernacle, the votive stand, the Stations of the Cross, the icons, the statue of Our Lady, the Christmas decorations, the prayer request wall.My eyes flip from the Christ Child in a manger to the Christ on the crucifix to the very presence of Him in the tabernacle. I see the adoration of shepherds, the watchfulness of Mary. I see the Stations which tell of Jesus’ arrest and trial, torture and crucifixion.I notice Veronica, who in the midst of this seeming inhumanity, violence and horror offers Jesus a towel to wipe his face. A simple act that conveys great love for a stranger and my mind returns to the scene of the room in A&E, to the strangers I met. Did I wipe their faces of the tears? I tried to.The events of faith depicted in the symbols in the Chapel can feel as though they are relived every day in healthcare. Yes I believe there is no place we can be where God is not, but somehow these moments of accompanying the dying and their loved ones are simultaneously both holy and horrifying.The answer, I respectfully suggest is that there are no answers. There is no perfect way to accompany human suffering and grief. All I can do is honour it, tenderly and lovingly and often silently, acknowledge it. And “be.”So today as on many other of the more difficult days, I pause in this chapel. This place where a multitude of people have come to plead with God, to shout at God, to thank God to try and find God. I speak names in my heart from this past day and year and I offer the unknown, the mystery, the hopelessness to the possibility of the one who is Hope.As the midnight chimes draw nearer and one year ebbs away and another bursts forth full of light and life and potential, a new year full of things that have never been, I pray that you will seek out the hope, the courage, the strength, the joy, the mystery. Whether you are in a good place tonight or in a difficult one, keep close to your loved ones and may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.Perhaps my prayer can be yours too…My past, O Lord, to your mercy,my present to your love,my future to your providence. (Padre Pio)
Quite a few deacons minister as hospital chaplains. This profound reflection from Fr Andrew Horsfall, Chaplaincy and Bereavement Care manager is much appreciated.