Hospital Sunday

Sermon Title: Hospital Sunday

Preacher: Sue Retschko, Retired Chaplain and volunteer in the Oncology Unit, Box Hill Hospital

Date: 16th August 2015

Church Calendar Date: 12th Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Reading:  1 Kings 2.10-12, 3.3-14   Ps 111   Ephesians 5.11-21   John 6.51-58

Let us pray:

Compassionate God, we ask you to bless all Health and Welfare Chaplains

with your renewing touch.

Equip, encourage and enable them

as they contribute in bringing healing and wholeness

in body, mind and spirit to those they care for.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Good morning, my name is Sue Retschko, I’m retired but still an active Hospital Chaplain and I’m a parishioner at St Stephen’s and St Mary’s Parish, Mount Waverley, and I thank Rev’d Susanne for inviting me here to speak with you this morning about Chaplaincy in hospitals.

Hospital Chaplaincy Sunday gives a focus to the ministries, provided by the 100 hospital chaplains in 13 major hospitals throughout the Diocese.

I’d like to talk with you about how I came to become an Anglican Chaplain, why I was drawn to this ministry, what chaplains do, and some stories from my hospital experience. And also, what you may like to do to support Anglican Health and Welfare Chaplaincy.

Over 20 years ago, I was involved in a parish’s pastoral care ministry, and I felt a sense of call to be trained. I didn’t feel that I was being called for Ordination but certainly to be more skilled and able to help and respond appropriately to people in hospital or parish. So I answered an ad in the Melbourne Anglican Paper for a course to be qualified as a Chaplain’s Assistant at the Alfred Hospital in Prahran. I began by visiting a cardiac ward where the patients were polite and curious about my role; most were prepared talk about their troubles or simply to chat. One man (with his tongue firmly in cheek) asked me if pastoral care was something to do with farming!

Since that time at the Alfred I’ve done further training in Clinical Pastoral Education and Theology. As a Lay Chaplain I have worked at several major hospitals including Monash Medical Centre and now am a volunteer at Box Hill.

Illness and hospitalization sets severe limits on what we can do, it forces us to slow down and to focus on the things that really matter. It keeps us in one place and in a strange bed. It prevents us from eating what we want and doing the things we are used to doing.

Hospitals can be strange and frightening places, places of crisis and drama where life and death is played out each day. On admission to hospital a person’s sense of control shifts to a place of vulnerability and powerlessness, so for patients and their families, the chaplain, as a member of their healing team, can be a calm, normalizing presence who is free to spend time with them, to carefully listen, to pray and support each person as they are in an unfamiliar, often intimidating environment.

Chaplains offer pastoral and religious care to patients, families and staff and respond to referrals from staff or clergy, and attend to the diverse spiritual and emotional concerns experienced through hospitalization with the sick and their relatives.

When I am referred to a patient, I prioritize their agenda, I try see things from their point of view, that they can be companioned through the various or distressing stages of their care journeys so that in confidential, non-judgmental conversations they can express their concerns and unburden themselves and be heard and validated.

Some patients don’t want to be visited, and I respect and don’t intrude on their privacy. Some say they are not churchgoers and if they wish, then it’s an opportunity for that person to speak with me about their doubts, their faith, or the things that are disturbing them. My role is not to defend, preach or probe, but to listen, hopefully with wisdom, sensitivity and compassion and to hold and sustain their worries, doubts or pain, or to share their good news.

If a patient isn’t religious a possible conversation could explore, ‘Well, can I ask what gives you the deepest meaning or purpose in your life’?

Many people are then able to name this ultimate meaning; it could be God or relationships with family, home, or finding a spiritual dimension in the environment through nature, their gardens, in music or the arts.

For someone in a hospital bed with time to ponder about their illness, people awaken to their deepest selves, and in their search for meaning, they have time to ponder some of the ‘big’ questions, Who am I?’ ‘Who is God? ‘What have I done to deserve this? ‘Has my life had any meaning?’ ‘What’s heaven like?’ ‘Where am I going?’

So these ‘big’ questions are a significant part of the work of chaplains in pastoral care. We offer people a relationship where their spiritualties and meanings can meet. Pastoral listening often leads into a conversation about forgiveness, love and hope. Spiritual guidance and support can help to ease the way when dealing with difficult issues such as letting go, saying goodbye, forgiveness, or preparing for the future.

Chaplains offer support and a sustaining presence in times of anxiety, or crisis. And for those who request them, Christian religious rituals such as Sacraments, Prayer, Bible verses or Blessings, are usually of tremendous comfort and healing for many.

 I’d like to share a couple of stories, (and by the way, all the names and events are changed to protect confidentiality)

Seated by a window in his single room as the sun started to fade, an old man said, ‘Not long now’. I knew he wasn’t talking about the afternoon. ‘They say I’ve got months, but I know it’s just about time’. Pulling a blanket over his shoulders he said to me, ‘I’m ready to go home’… he paused, and I knew it was not his home in Carlton. ‘It’s so quiet and peaceful here now’ he said. I nodded. Later that week he died, and through our conversations and prayers he died peacefully and with acceptance.

‘David’ was not a Christian, but had faith, a big man with a weak, failing heart; he was waiting for a heart transplant.

Over many weeks I listened and encouraged his hope, one morning we looked out the hospital window to the nearby park. David said, ‘One day, I’ll be able to walk over there and hug that tree’. Some months later, he received a healthy donor heart, the gift of new life, and what an amazing transformation; David not only hugged that tree but he gave us all hugs as he left hospital to resume his new life.

Another patient was ‘Jim’.

As a chaplain, it’s a rare privilege to be in the position to hear a remarkable story from a patient, followed by the words, ‘I have never told anyone this before’….

This was the case in Jim’s amazing story. Jim was elderly and physically handicapped; he sat in a corner by his bed. We talked and after a while he told me what had happened as he drove home after a visit to the hospital’s outpatient clinic.

As a speeding car passed him, it suddenly collided with a truck. Jim had noticed that a young woman was driving the vehicle, and there was a baby in the back seat. Regardless of his incapacity and the danger of igniting fuel, Jim jumped from his car and ran to the crashed car. He had once worked as a panel beater and he knew how to lever forward the car seat, so as flames licked his arms and just before the vehicle exploded, he was able to release the woman and her baby.

Emergency services arrived to extinguish the fire and care for the victims.

And after the crisis was over they acknowledged Jim’s heroism and he was recommended for a bravery award.

Jim was convinced that a higher power had guided him to that spot at that time, and in an instant, forgetting his disabilities, he said he’d been given the extra strength to save the lives of these two people.

Jim knew nothing about religion, yet he was humbled and moved by a power beyond his own and he attributed this episode to divine intervention. Jim asked me for a copy of the Bible as he now saw himself in a new way and he wanted to know more about this mysterious God.

I met Jim once more; he seemed to sit up taller and I was pleased to hear how he’d bought a suit from an ‘op’ shop to wear to receive his bravery award at Government House.

I often notice how the importance of story telling and companioning gives focus to the chaplain’s care, as for Jim and for each of us it is in the telling of our story that we find personal meaning in our lives and where we together share in God’s story of salvation.

As the Psalmist today proclaims, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Perhaps a better word for ‘fear’ is ‘awe’ or ‘wonder’. Jim certainly had an amazing sense of being guided by a strength beyond his own and was awe struck and filled with wonder that he was able to save two lives.

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of himself as living bread, and unlike the manna in the desert, Jesus is lasting bread for us in our search for hope and meaning in our lives. Jesus is bread for us in moments of desperation and suffering, and He is living bread for life, especially for us in the Eucharist today, the Eucharist that provides hope, nourishment and strength for those in hospital and for us here this morning.

In pastoral care, the Chaplain represents God in Christ and brings an extra dimension and presence, giving patients and their relatives a calmness and increased confidence that they are being loved and cared for by God.

Chaplains offer their skilled presence and care to people in all the stages of life, from it’s beginning, through its trials and tribulations to its close.

Over these past years I have met many people in hospitals who have inspired and encouraged me and given me courage to persevere, and I do thank God for the gift and privilege of a vocation in Chaplaincy..

And so now you might be wondering how might you support the work of Anglican Health and Welfare Chaplains? Do please pray for our Anglican Chaplains in Hospitals, Prisons and Care Facilities, and perhaps think about making a financial donation to the Melbourne Anglican Foundation to support the work of Health and Welfare Chaplains, or maybe even considering training as an Anglican chaplains assistant. If you feel that God is calling you to this ministry, you can speak with your Vicar or the Rev’d Stephen Delbridge, the Manager of Health and Welfare Chaplaincy in the Diocese…

Thank you all for your welcome, and I look forward to having a conversation after this service.

The Lord be With You:

So, may the love of God give you strength, may Jesus the bread of life, give you hope. And may the Holy Spirit, the staff of life, lead you, ever deeper in the love and mystery of the one who gave his life up for you. Amen.