Lent Blog – 9: OFFBEAT MINISTRY

Published Fri, 26/02/2021 by

Two of my parishioners are in hospital, on the same ward.  Alas, I am unable to visit them.  I have to say that on the two occasions in January I visited this hospital, I was struck by how busy the place was.  The main corridor was bustling.  In these Covid-conscious times everyone was wearing masks – but there must have been some risk of virus transmission all the same, however small.

So when I rang, I wouldn’t have minded if I had been told, “Sorry, no visiting allowed”.  That would have been understandable.  What rankled came after I was put through to the ward.  I explained I was a priest from Belper and two patients were my parishioners.  Would I be allowed in to administer the sacraments?  I knew this would be appreciated.  Receptionist: “I’ll see.”  Then, turning to the staff nurse: “There’s an offbeat request here …”  The rest of the conversation was inaudible, but from that remark, ‘offbeat’, I knew the answer would be ‘no’.

The consolation of the sacraments isn’t widely understood.  Yet pastoral care of the whole person must take the spiritual dimension into account.  Even secularists can see that.  A commitment to a clinical care which is truly patient-centred wouldn’t make marginalising prejudgements about faith practices as ‘offbeat’.

This story has a happy ending.  I rang the Chaplaincy department next day and explained the situation.  Soon afterwards they arranged for a retired colleague – well known to the staff as a former Hospital Chaplain – to visit.  He administered the sacraments.  So, all’s well that ends well, but I can’t help feeling there is an educative task to be addressed there.

MICHAEL KIRKHAM