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Creating Space: Story, reflection and practice in healthcare chaplaincy by Sacha Pearce and Jan Collis

05 May 2023

Dorothy Moore Brooks welcomes healthcare chaplains’ reflections

OCCASIONALLY, a book takes us to an unexpected place of reconnection with the vocation that we set out into ministry with. After more than 20 years in healthcare chaplaincy, Creating Space did that for me. At times, Sacha Pearce and Jan Collis’s words felt like going for a walk with old friends from chaplaincy’s hall of fame. Their book contributes something pioneering in chaplaincy, while building on a solid foundation of good practice across the sector. It tells the story of a deeply incarnational ministry, in which the chaplains at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust have created safe spaces for both their colleagues and their patients.

At the outset, the authors write of a model of chaplaincy which “opens the doors outwards”. What follows embodies this, as they describe an intentional way of “being”, consistently shunning the language of “doing”. They endeavour to embrace a mutual hospitality in which the chaplain comes with empty hands, thus conveying that there is room for the voice and story of the other to be heard.

In a crowded market of differing models of reflective practice, the one articulated here has evidently been warmly adopted by colleagues from different disciplines, allowing them to attend not only to their practice, but also to their well-being. Rather like Values-Based Reflective Practice, as commonly used in Scottish healthcare contexts, this approach is practical for use in fast-paced environments in which time pressures often limit the opportunities for reflective practice.

Another key benefit is its focus on the well-being of the professional. It is an intrinsically hospitable and holistic model, in which staff can bring their whole selves. I warmed to the author’s description of their approach as being “like an inner sanctuary”, something that we can carry with us in our daily work. This came into stark relief as I read the last chapter, in which the authors describe how their approach came of age when the Covid pandemic suddenly plunged healthcare staff into an abyss of unprecedented levels of trauma.

At a time when budgets in the NHS are tight, and chaplains must be able to articulate with confidence the value that they add to their institution, this resource not only is transformative for those who use it, but also provides a robust evidence base for explaining why chaplains matter. It is, therefore, a helpful articulation of what “chaplaincy in the public square” (Andrew Todd, 2011) can look like.

Beyond the NHS, this work has clearly been used to good effect in other contexts: for example, parish and education settings. There is a gentle nudge, which could perhaps have been given more attention, to the Church to widen its lenses from a purely parish-based model, and to consider chaplaincy as a valid vocation and training context.

Creating Space is rich in resources and ideas. It avoids basking in the triumphs of its authors, but, rather, has a deep humility woven through it. In essence, it is an authentic offering of the story of one community, in the hope that it will be helpful to others as they reflect on their own story.

The Revd Dorothy Moore Brooks is Senior Chaplain and Deputy Team Leader of the Great Ormond Street NHS Foundation Trust, London.


Creating Space: Story, reflection and practice in healthcare chaplaincy
Sacha Pearce and Jan Collis
Sacristy Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.29

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