Chaplains Again...

Just incase anyone interested in the issue of chaplaincy missed the comment which Dr. Presswood appended to the post prompted by his appearance on the Today programme, you will find his comments on chaplaincy here. He protests loudly about not being anti-religious per-se but his tone is (as in the aforementioned Radio 4 appearance), patronising, using terms like "credulity", accusing chaplains roles as "morphing" while he portrays the attitudes of others in healthcare as "improving". His reference to scripture is not only extremely selective but misleading, both in terms of actual referencing (it is 2 John chapter 1 verse 7 rather than John chapter 2 verse 7, which would have been a reference to Jesus turning water into wine... which chaplains only rarely do...) but also emphasis, as the context of " John 1: 2  for example is not about heathens or non-believers but about "super-spiritual" individuals who regard physical existence as unimportant... I reckon that Dr. Presswood would be at one with John in pillorying such teachings...
But just because I object to his tone and misrepresentation of both Christianity as a whole and chaplaincy as a discipline, there is something to be considered in his proposal of a Patient Support Service, though I would suggest that it should include rather than replace a chaplaincy service. If I have the energy or enthusiasm after my post Easter break from work (both as a circuit minister and as a chaplain) I may return to reflect further on this and the 5 questions he poses at the end of his piece.
Unsurprisingly I find myself more in tune with the piece by another chaplain, Chiron, in a guest post on the Recovering Agnostic blog that Dr. Presswood refers to. There are a wide range of responses to this - largely negative, but they together with Dr. Presswood's own post, set me thinking again about why I am opposed to the wholesale removal of chaplaincy from the NHS as we have it now.
Whilst I am a chaplain and could be accused of speaking out of a sense of self-interest, I actually think that my primary hesitancy is actually due to a wariness of the unintended consequences of such a move and is, ironically forged in the divisive religious culture of Northern Ireland. Because while Dr. Presswood, and other secularist commentators, claim to be not opposed to the presence of chaplains in hospitals, only the cost to the tax-payer, I believe that the unregulated nature of "church/religious body-funded" chaplains would ultimately be unmanageable in an increasingly multi-faith society, and would inevitably lead to a "banning" of chaplains, to the detriment of the holistic care of patients. 
Unsurprisingly I do not have a reductionist view of human existence or even medical care. Human beings are more than mechanical bodies that need fixed. Dr. Presswood acknowledges this, but I often have to sweep up after those who do have a reductionist approach have left patients and families (of all faiths and none) floundering in their wake. Generally I am invited to visit a such patient when an older nurse (who often have a more person-centred, holistic and vocational sense of medical care) has noticed some element of distress caused by a consultants' visit. Perhaps that aspect of a chaplain's role may be removed by training doctors better. Dr. Presswood's suggestion that part of this is due to doctors not having enough time and that we simply need more doctors on the wards, may have some merit, but if those extra doctors have a mindset that reduces people to bio-mechanical systems that need to be fixed, then the needs of the whole person will continue to be overlooked. 
It is also important to recognise that chaplains do not perform the same function as a person's own pastor/priest, indeed I sometimes find myself in conflict with such people, either in defending the wishes of the patient to not see them, or because of their lack of understanding of good hospital practice. 
Nor are chaplains simply cut-price counsellors in clerical collars, although as Chiron has suggested the cost of chaplaincy is ultimately negligible and as my colleague Derek Johnston has suggested, may ultimately save money on psychological counselling/drugs. It is inappropriate to downplay the religious/spiritual element, but this should never be equated with an exclusive denominational or even faith-based service... I am chaplain to Methodists and "others" in my particular institution and frankly, feel I have been of more use to those of "other" and "no" faith than I ever am to practising Methodists...  
"No surprises there..." say my congregation...

Shalom


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