FIFTY YEARS after Dame Cicely Saunders founded the first modern hospice in 1967, this book is a timely and fitting tribute to her legacy. It consists of a series of reflections by chaplains and allied professionals, and is packed with inspiration, experience, and good practice.
The book is divided into three parts: “Locating the Work of Palliative Care Chaplaincy”; “Reflecting Theologically”; and “Who Are We?” I like the way in which the contributors are introduced by their names only: the positions that they hold are identified at the back of the book. So the reader is helped to connect, first and foremost, with the words of people in their humanity rather than with chaplains in their ministry: “ultimately the uniqueness of chaplaincy lies in the way we use the only tool we have — ourselves.”
Placing the patient, as a person, at the heart of all that chaplains do is another golden thread. Moving encounters and personal stories are accompanied by an emphasis on excellence in professional practice, with contributions from practitioners experienced in supervision and key palliative-care skills.
I found considerable richness in the theological reflections, including those on palliative-care chaplaincy per se: “It is, above all, an exercise in perichoresis — divine interweaving.”
Contributors speak eloquently of the rewarding nature of their work. The importance of chaplaincy is endorsed by a chief executive: “I firmly believe that chaplains should be an integral part of hospice care.” At the same time, the possible loneliness is described with candour: even that “chaplains may find themselves on the receiving end of shadow processes.” The importance of personal and professional support is highlighted, including the framework of the national Association of Hospice and Palliative Care Chaplains.
In recent years, there has been a shift towards providing non-religious spiritual care alongside faith provision as traditionally understood. So I was pleased to see examples of spiritual care “less defined by religious belief and more focused on the patient themselves”, in a multicultural setting as well as others. I would, however, have welcomed more discussion of the potential benefits of developing and empowering healthcare professionals as spiritual carers. On the other hand, I found “The Contribution of Volunteers” affirming of the part that they play.
The work of chaplains today calls for a weaving of the sacred with the secular, according to context and calling. These reflections demonstrate the art of this weaving with dedication and skill. They offer much to ponder to all who would metaphorically take off their shoes and enter the ground of palliative spiritual care, where, in the words of one of the poems:
We too at last
Learn to accompany them
On their painful journey
Painful, because it reminds us
Of the journey we also have to make.
The Revd Ann Fulton is Spiritual Care Co-ordinator for St Margaret’s Hospice, Somerset.
Chaplaincy in Hospice and Palliative Care
Karen Murphy and Bob Whorton, editors
Church Times Bookshop £17.10