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Is Chaplaincy the new frontier?

Wesley Hospital Chaplain Ms Terrie Seymour visiting patient Mrs Olive Cullen from Indooroopilly Uniting Church congregation during her time in hospital. Photo by Osker Lau

With a critical shortage of ministers available to serve in congregational placements and over 100 chaplains serving in the Queensland Synod, Journey asks, “Is this the best way to do the church’s work?”

Once seen as ministry in the army, hospitals or schools chaplains now serve in a vast range of settings including universities, prisons, colleges, aged care facilities, police, emergency services, sporting teams, businesses, factories, psychiatric institutions, tourist resorts, and even animal hospitals.

Some are lay people, others are ministers or deacons, some are paid professionals and many are volunteers.

Synod Chaplaincy coordinator Rev Graeme Adsett said, “We used to think of chaplaincy in a narrow limited way, now we recognise that there are hardly any limits to the places which could use chaplaincy services.

“The people are not coming to the Church. The Church must go to them. Jesus went to the people. So must we.”

Mr Adsett said that Chaplaincy is about being with others in their need and, in doing that, personifying the love, care and compassion of Jesus.

“To be a Chaplain means to be a ‘presence with others’, to listen carefully, to respond thoughtfully and to love generously. It is sometimes called ‘loitering with intent’.

“When the Jesus model of love, care and compassion, is practised humbly, patiently and selflessly in chaplaincy ministry, the health and morale of people in secular environments is enhanced.”

Mr Adsett said while significant energy and monetary resources are expended to “hone-up worship into an ever-evolving art form”, not as many resources are allocated to engaging the community.

“Because of the scale of its efforts in the ‘enclave’ very little planning is done to go beyond the congregational setting, and even when there is enthusiasm, resources cannot be allocated because the demands of the insular congregational machine must be maintained.

“The world we live in now is a different one where individuals have very definite ideas of what they want, and that does not necessarily mean joining a group, especially a church group.

“But, if challenged, they would still admit to a spiritual hunger in their lives.”

Recently commissioned to the Wesley Hospital Department of Pastoral Care, Uniting Church lay Chaplain Ms Terrie Seymour ministers ecumenically throughout the wards.

Member of The Lakes Uniting Church congregation, Ms Seymour has found her work at the Wesley Hospital a rich and rewarding experience.

“Chaplaincy for me is like putting on a pair of leather shoes made especially for me by God’s own hand. They are a perfect fit; it’s like they were always meant to be on my feet.

“While they may take me down paths I haven’t been before I feel protected and supported,” said Ms Seymour.

“The fit is so right that I don’t really see how I could have ever worn anything else.

“Even when my heart might be aching for someone my feet still dance for joy because the shoes were made for them.”

Mr Adsett believes Christians generally and Chaplains in particular must be engaging people in homes, in workplaces and in recreational spaces.

“When this happens, a congregation will avoid becoming an end in itself and avoid being spiritually unproductive, inbred and irrelevant.

“The new paradigm has a balance in favour of going out into the secular arena to stand and empathise with others of all kinds, rather than congregate within to review personal spirituality with others of our own kind.

“A helpful image might be to strap a water bottle on the hip and move out into the community sharing the life and spirit of Jesus, to avoid wallowing in the low-level spiritual reservoir with one’s personal and private Jesus.”

Photo : Wesley Hospital Chaplain Ms Terrie Seymour visiting patient Mrs Olive Cullen from Indooroopilly Uniting Church congregation during her time in hospital. Photo by Osker Lau