In the English language there are many scary words. Several begin with the letter ‘C’. One is cancer, another is chaplain.
When confronted by a chaplain many people will immediately think of a ‘god-botherer’, probably trying to convert them to whatever brand of religion is being peddled. I am delighted to say that this is a misconception and any chaplain who tries to convert you will be sacked!
Chaplaincy is about walking the spiritual journey with someone who is trying to work out what is happening to them, why and how they are going to make sense of it going into the future. Each individual is different and our differences show through in what we believe about the world we live in and how we make decisions in our lives. Each of us is responsible for our decisions, but how we arrived at our present position is as important to all this as what we might admit to believing – or not.
Spirituality is all about how we make sense of what has happened to us in the past, finding a sense of purpose in our lives at present and how we find hope in what may happen to us in the future. I would argue that all people are spiritual because all of us are trying to make sense our lives, Some people choose to express their spirituality through a particular religion, but often our association with a religion is more to do with the culture we were brought up in, or the things that the religious community we belong to does, rather than the specifics of what that group believes. There are far more people in church who like singing hymns and socialising than believe every line of doctrine which the church spouts.
Anyone can help us with this task, but chaplains are trained, prepared and experienced to help with this. In fact, all healthcare staff have a duty to help with spiritual care for all patients and the NHS in Wales and Scotland make this especially clear – the English will catch up with us one day!
As we grow, what we understand about the world changes and what we are prepared to accept changes. When we are very young many of our questions about why the world is the way it is are answered matter of factly with answers which we later discover are not the whole story, but at the time we accept them as useful and – more importantly – they fit with the way we understand the world. Later, we may go back and challenge these answers or ask new questions and we may need help to make sense of not just the answers, but the questions as well.
This is where good spiritual care comes in. We need people we can trust to want to help us and not simply give us their answers, as good as those answers might be for them, they might be useless to us.
Chaplains within the health service may be religious, but not all are! They come from all the different faith traditions represented in the people of our community. Any chaplain can help people of any faith tradition and those of no faith, because chaplains are there to help with spiritual care... not just religious.