As the recently appointed part-time Anglican Chaplain at Vancouver General Hospital I often feel caught up in an endless episode of Mission Impossible. Working with my colleagues in the Spiritual Care and Multifaith Services Department, I provide pastoral care to an ever-changing population of patients, families, visitors, medical and support-staff, in six different buildings, spread over four city blocks.
This ministry takes me into every ward, including: emergency, burns, trauma, ICU, pre and post operative, step-down, transplant, surgical, long-term care, day-patients, cancer treatment, psychiatry, dementia, geriatrics, cardiac and palliative care. In these settings I meet patients from every conceivable cultural background, speaking a variety of different languages. Some are unable to speak due to their medical condition, feeding tubes, medications, or other factors.
I try to console patients, spouses, parents, and concerned family members; often in confined spaces, seemingly designed intentionally as an obstacle course, with cables, monitors, medical equipment, walkers, wheelchairs, hoists, fans, IV poles and feeding-trays, with the distracting sounds of buzzers, alarms and bells, and constant interruptions. Frequently, the rooms have multiple occupants, no privacy, and nowhere to sit. Occasionally, to prevent infections, I do this while wearing a gown, a mask (which fogs up), and rubber gloves...
I interact with an incredible variety of people who are often physically, mentally, relationally and spiritually suffering. They are living through great stress, experiencing powerful emotions such as: fear, anxiety, rage, shame, guilt, loneliness, depression, abandonment, despair, helplessness, loss and an oppressive uncertainty about their chances of recovery.
God’s timing and grace is often clearly evident in this ministry. I had the privilege of sharing the Gospel with one gentleman in the hospital, baptising him at his request, and giving him Communion for the first time in his life; he passed away a few days later. His sister called me to say how much peace she had knowing what had transpired spiritually for her brother during his stay at the hospital.
VGH is like a large, ever-changing international congregation. Patients come from all over British Columbia, and hospitalisation can be particularly traumatising for those urgent cases flown in by helicopter from remote locations. They have been abruptly plucked from all their support systems of family, church, community, language and culture, and often feel lonely, disoriented and vulnerable. Because BC is also a major tourist destination, patients and their families stem from all parts of the world. I have ministered to families from Texas, Ireland, New York, Ontario and Quebec who have fallen ill or been involved in accidents during their vacations here.
The hospital is a living, dynamic organism with a life of its own, suffused with the drama of life and death twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week. As I move through its corridors, enter the wards, take the elevators, negotiate labyrinthine tunnels or just sit in the cafeteria, I meet people from all walks of life. Illness knows no societal, cultural or financial boundaries and strikes everyone, from the wealthy to the homeless. I am also reminded that, at any moment, I too could be in one of those beds, in need of spiritual care.
Chaplaincy requires supportive, empathetic presence and attentive listening. I hold hands, literally and metaphorically. I pray with and for people, anoint them for healing, bring them communion, make phone calls on their behalf, occasionally follow-up with them after they have been discharged, and try to speak words of grace, love and life into their difficult circumstances. Basically, I journey with them as far as they need, or will allow. Before I can do any of this, of course, I have to win their trust. Sometimes the little things are the most significant. Recently I visited an elderly lady and asked her: “is there anything I can do for you?” Her smiling spontaneously positive reply was, “your presence is enough.”
As we move through the season of Advent, I treasure the Song of Zechariah in the Gospel of Luke. There, the elderly Zechariah, close to death, proclaims Jesus to be the light which will “shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Many of the people I meet are caught up in their own unique darkness and some are indeed living “in the shadow of death.” As a hospital Chaplain my goal is always, if possible, to bring them the light and peace of Christ. As one terminally ill lady on the palliative care unit told me: “I am not afraid anymore, because God is in control.”
I deeply appreciate the encouragement, prayers and financial support of all those who have a heart for this ministry, and the very practical and insightful help and advice of our dedicated volunteer visitor, Kate Walker, from Christ Church Cathedral.
Unfortunately, this vital ministry is itself presently on life-support as it is funded entirely by donations from concerned individuals, the diocesan Anglican Church Women (ACW) and a few local Anglican parishes which collectively share a common vision for its pastoral mandate. Funds will be exhausted by the end of 2018 and so, on behalf of all who are caught up in the struggle of life at VGH, I invite you to invest financially and spiritually in this ministry which helps transform lives both now and for eternity….May God richly bless YOU today, especially with the precious gift of good health.
If you would like to contact me please send me an email