Presbytery Tour: In praise of hospital chaplains

22.3.2022 | Moderator, Church in Society, Ministry, Church Life, Chaplaincy


On a visit to the Causeway Hospital, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, saluted the work of the hospital chaplains, praising ‘the critical role they play in the life of the hospital, its patients and staff’.

The visit was part of Dr Bruce’s weeklong tour of PCI’s Presbytery of Coleraine & Limavady, where he was able to spend time with the hospital’s new six strong team of chaplains and chaplaincy volunteers. He also met medical staff, and senior Northern Health & Social Care Trust (NHSCT) personnel.

“While this has been a busy week, it is never too busy to take time to acknowledge those who make a big difference to the lives of people. At our General Assembly last October, we expressed our ‘sincere gratitude’ as a Church and thanked the dedicated work of chaplains during the pandemic. It was a privilege to be able to convey that gratitude and appreciation in person,” Dr Bruce said.

“Hospital chaplains not only provide care and pastoral support to patients and their families at difficult times in their lives, but also offer a listening ear to staff working in challenging circumstances as a result of the wider pressures facing the health service. On behalf of PCI, I very much welcomed the opportunity to be able to thank the chaplaincy team at Causeway Hospital for what they have done and continue to do, in the name of Jesus. I also wanted to acknowledge the critical role they play in the life of the hospital, its patients and staff,” he continued.

The chaplaincy team at Causeway Hospital consists of Rev Norman Harrison, a PCI minister who is the lead chaplain, Father Damien McCaughan, Roman Catholic chaplain, Church of Ireland (CoI) Rector, Rev Andrew Sweeney, CoI and Methodist chaplain and PCI Deaconess Hazel Reid, a former nurse who is the chaplain for Presbyterians, other denominations, and other religions. Also part of the team are chaplaincy volunteers Sister Rosemary Gallagher and Wendy Morton. More volunteers will be joining the team shortly.

Speaking about the visit, Rev Norman Harrison said, “We are a relatively new team of chaplains here at Causeway and I know that the whole team very much appreciated the visit of the Moderator, his fellowship and prayers.”

Working full-time in chaplaincy, Mr Harrison is the Presbyterian chaplain in the Royal Group of Hospitals in Belfast on a Monday, Wednesday and a Friday, while leading the chaplains for the Northern Trust, including Causeway Hospital, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “We have been very blessed in assembling such an excellent Causeway chaplaincy team who work tirelessly together to provide a genuine person-centred ministry to those patients and staff who ask for our assistance and support,” he said.

Talking about their work, the lead chaplain appreciated that for whatever reason, not everyone wants to see a chaplain. On admission, however, patients are asked if they would like the opportunity to have a visit at some stage, and those that do, receive a visit each week from their denominational chaplain.

“It is very much a person-centred approach, coming alongside someone to talk about spiritual matters, sharing scripture and praying for them, if that is what they would like. It may be they just want to talk about the concerns they have, especially if they have never been in hospital before, so we just listen. Whether we are a listening ear, or able to share the hope that we have in Jesus, I think that in some respects, we can be a calming and reassuring presence in times of anxiety and distress,” he said.

Accompanied by his wife Zoë, Dr Bruce’s visit took place on the second anniversary of the UK’s lockdown where he was also able to visit staff on wards, and meet with a number of individuals who had made a significant contribution to the work of chaplaincy.

The Moderator was able to thank Olive Watt of Ballywillan Presbyterian Church, Portrush, for personally crocheting thousands of handmade crosses, which chaplains across Northern Ireland were able to pass on to patients and staff throughout the Lockdown. Dr Bruce also met with Stephen Smith, who oversees the NHSCT Workshop in the Pavestone Centre, Coleraine, where 1000 holding crosses were made by day-centre attendees, commissioned by the Northern Ireland Healthcare Chaplains Association. The crosses were distributed as part of its Patient Resource Bank to all Health & Social Care Trusts and hospices.

He expressed his appreciation to Helen Logan, a member of the Causeway Hospital staff, who started a Breakfast Prayer opportunity for members of the hospital staff team for mutual support and to pray for patient and staff needs.

“During the visit it was clear to me that there was very strong sense of collaboration across the Christian traditions, which makes for a good working chaplaincy model. While the time the chaplaincy team can spend in the hospital is limited, due to the nature of the current contracts, there is a great need for the chaplains.

“Often a little known service, but a hope-filled one all the same, I commend wholeheartedly the work that they do, alongside their medical and ancillary colleagues, who together make the NHS what it is,” Dr Bruce said.

Dr Bruce also met with catering staff who were providing to all Causeway hospital team that day a coffee break, on behalf of the Presbytery of Coleraine & Limavady, as an acknowledgement of their service.

The visit was one of 30 separate engagements in the Moderator’s weeklong tour of the Presbytery. One of PCI’s 19 regional bodies, Coleraine & Limavady is made up of 36 congregations stretching along the North Coast from Limavady to Portrush and into the rural hinterland from Banagher and Dungiven through the lower Bann Valley and across to Ballyrashane.

Photos  (1) Back row (left to right) in the hospital chapel, Father Damian McCaughan Roman Catholic chaplain, the Moderator, Dr Bruce, and Rev Andrew Sweeney, Church of Ireland & Methodist chaplain. Front row, PCI's Rev Norman Harrison, lead chaplain, Sister Rosemary Gallagher, Roman Catholic chaplaincy volunteer, Deaconess Hazel Reid, Presbyterian & other denominations and religions chaplain and Wendy Morton, Presbyterian & other denominations and religions chaplaincy volunteer (2) the Moderator at the coffee dock (3) the Dr Bruce with (left to right) Donna Hanna, Causeway Hospital's Clinical Services Manager and Siobhan Blair, charge nurse on Causeway's Rehab ward.

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