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Saturday, June 9, 2012

European Healthcare Chaplains: Our common purpose

It has been my privilege to represent the National Association of Healthcare Chaplains at the 12th Consultation of the European Network of Healthcare Chaplains meeting at Mennorode Conference Centre in the beautiful National Park De Hoge Veluwe, about an hour from Amsterdam. The theme of the consultation (which meets every two years) is 'Working together -The challenge for chaplaincy in an interdisciplinary era'

53 of us have gathered from 23 countries and regions from across the ecumenical spectrum to share, receive, pray, learn and reflect together. The diversity of tradition, practice and outlook is very rich, yet at they same time there is a very powerful sense of the common practice of spiritual care-giving that unites us all. We have been challenged to reflect on how we minister and work in the context of the wider healthcare discipline working with fellow professionals and colleagues to offer the very best holistic or 'total' patient care and experience.

We have been exploring how we best place ourselves in what for many of us is two different worlds - the world of a Faith Community and the world of the Healthcare Institution. We have explored how we contribute to and work with and within the whole team of carers in a healthcare setting to contribute to the well-being of the person we care for -after all they are at the heart of all our work and care.  Dr Ewan Kelly in his presentation challenged us to engage at both the systemic and the operational level to influence and shape patient and healthcare.

We visited some healthcare institutions in Amsterdam to see how chaplains work in integrated team settings. I visited the Academisch Medisch Centrum and was very impressed with the 'Silent room' that was a space for all faiths in the middle of a very busy hospital and to see in particular the role of the chaplain in the paediatric and neonatal area.

At this stage in the consultation, what strikes me most is the deep level of care and professional expertise that is evident in so many places. The sharing of our stories and insights reveals a common sense of purpose and professional 'connectedness' across so many cultures, traditions and health systems. It is a reminder that as 'spiritual care-givers' -the term most used in the Netherlands- we have something distinctive to offer to the healthcare community and not just amongst patients. We are called to nurture the soul of the health system and to humanise it when there is a strong emphasis towards 'technologising' it. In the words of Professor Ruard Ganzevoort our care is in the 'relational not technical'.

We care for people and not illnesses. In the words of our Network Co-ordinator Dr Anne Vandenhoek  we need as healthcare chaplains and spiritual care-givers to be able to speak many languages -of faith, of spirituality, of healthcare, of economics, of management, of humanity and so forth.

Our hosts, and in particular Gabrielle Gies,  Joost Verhoef, Simon Evers and Robert Koorneef have been wonderful examples of hospitality and grace.

As I sit outside the beautiful eco-chapel at Mennorode, in the middle of a national wildlife park, there is a water feature that is visible from the inside through the glass front. From inside we can see the water rising from within a tree trunk but outside we hear it bubbling in the midst of birdsong. It is a constant reminder of the never-ending source of all life and care that we as chaplains seek to identify with those we care for.
This is a privileged ministry, vocation and profession within healthcare.
It is our joy -with others- to nurture, cherish and celebrate the gift that is humanity and along the way discovering meaning, value and purpose as we embrace our human story with the story of the sacred.

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