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Out of the mouths of babes

08 July 2016

Dorothy Moore Brooks on how to talk to children about faith

Spiritual Care with Sick Children and Young People: A handbook for chaplains, paediatric health professionals, arts therapists and youth workers
Paul Nash, Kathryn Darby and Sally Nash
Jessica Kingsley Publishers £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50


IN THE chapel at Great Ormond Street Hospital, there is a stained-glass window with the words of Matthew 18.2 inscribed on it: “Jesus called a little child unto him and set him in the midst.” Within the many and changing demands of a busy hospital, that window regularly brings me back to the core calling of a paediatric chaplain — to set the child in the midst of all that we do. In their book, Spiritual Care with Sick Children and Young People, Paul Nash, Kathryn Darby, and Sally Nash get this right, because the stories of those they minister to take centre stage. Theirs are the voices that resound in the ears of the reader long after the book is finished.

The premise of this much needed handbook is that spiritual care is “easier to explore than to explain”. It does this powerfully by recounting more than 40 verbatim accounts of “interpretive spiritual encounters” that the chaplains at Birmingham Children’s Hospital (BCH) have had with children and young people there.

Often these encounters are centred on playful, non-threatening activities, such as examen dolls (that is, dolls with a happy and a sad face on either side), bead bracelets, sensory boxes, and so on. (Those from other therapies, or who have worked in bereavement support with children, may be familiar with activities such as this, albeit under different names.) None the less, the team at BCH has effectively and creatively developed them in such a way that they open doors by which sick children can express and explore their spiritual life and needs within the context of a safe and supportive relationship with the chaplain.

While it is entirely focused on hospitalised children, this book has a broader application, and would be helpful to any professional seeking to step on to the holy ground that is the place where a child or young person needs and wants to explore his or her beliefs, hopes, and fears.

Threads of gold are woven throughout this book, which provides a framework for best practice in this important ministry — for instance, consistent respect for the child must be shown by checking regularly for ongoing consent; and, inspired by Rebecca Nye’s work on the spirituality of the child, we are called to “notice every question.”

This is a useful, hopeful, and thought-provoking resource, which is well worth a complete read-through. It can also, however, be dipped into for clear, practical guidance by those who find themselves needing to lay solid foundations that will allow interpretative spiritual encounters to happen.

Some problems of style make the early chapters less than fluent, and even somewhat irksome: the reader may, for example, feel a little patronised by an over-use of italics, which presumably indicate those themes that we are to notice rather than allow us to extrapolate them for ourselves. Having said that, I found the chapters on “Making Meaning and Creating Spaces for Spiritual Care” beautifully written. They draw us into a transcendent place where there is little doubt that this ministry is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

It is surprising that there is no articulation of the theological framework in which this work is so clearly grounded. I understand that the writers are keen for their work to appeal to multi-faith and multi-disciplinary colleagues. In my view, however, the inclusion of theology would only enhance, and add depth to, this helpful handbook.


The Revd Dorothy Moore Brooks is Chaplaincy Deputy Team Leader of the Great Ormond Street NHS Foundation Trust.

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