Front-line chaplains: emergency services for the soul

1 year ago 117

Reverend Paul Thomas BEM, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service

I joined the Liverpool Fire Brigade successful 1968 astatine the property of 16. I transferred to North Wales, earlier yet joining South Wales Fire and Rescue Service astir 3 decades later. I was brought up successful a Christian home; my begetter was a curate close present successful the valleys. For a agelong time, I ne'er wanted to beryllium involved, formally. Eventually, I trained for the ministry, jointly starring a church, and missions successful Uganda. On 1 specified trip, I recovered my calling.

By 2002, I was acceptable to discontinue from the time job. I handed successful my notice, past had a telephone from the chief’s office. I was invited successful for beverage and biscuits and helium asked if I’d see staying connected arsenic the work chaplain. I near operational duty, but ne'er the occurrence service.

We person a motto: “For each without exception.” It means we’re not bothered by who you are oregon what you believe, everyone volition beryllium cared for. The work has occupational wellness and HR, of course, but we’re present to enactment radical personally successful the strictest of confidence. You tin beryllium uniformed oregon not; a retiree oregon household member. Regardless, I ne'er bring religion up, unless specifically asked. We don’t shove it down your throat: that’s the fig 1 regularisation of the chaplaincy.

Some radical I conscionable are going done marital oregon narration struggles; others fiscal difficulties oregon workplace problems. And, of course, determination are circumstantial challenges our unit look arsenic a effect of our jobs: post-traumatic accent disorder, grief and injury. Our men and women are prepared to enactment their ain lives astatine hazard for radical they’ve ne'er adjacent met. That takes a remarkably axenic emotion for humanity. It’s a privilege to beryllium astatine their service.

I cognize the strategy wrong retired – the horrors and trauma, the joyfulness, excessively – due to the fact that I’ve spent a nonrecreational beingness wrong it. I myself person had colleagues who’ve died connected duty; friends who’ve mislaid their lives successful fires, too. Each impacted and shaped maine hugely; it’s however I subordinate to colleagues.

My telephone is connected 24 hours a day. From clip to time, I’ll get that 3am call. In fact, crews person their ain inbuilt coping strategy successful the contiguous aftermath of an incidental – I’m not regularly asked down to the station. Often, I find it’s days oregon weeks aboriginal that radical truly request my support. Once the adrenaline has worn disconnected and the squad isn’t together.

It’s not each astir the superior stuff. I marque definite to beryllium a changeless presence. That way, relationships are built up implicit clip – you can’t expect radical to spot a full stranger.

I find support, erstwhile I request it, from my wife, chaplain networks and religion community, but I tin besides crook to my occurrence work brothers and sisters. It’s a reciprocal relationship, and that’s special. I’ll ne'er hide going into HQ 1 time erstwhile idiosyncratic stopped maine connected the stairs and said, “Paul, you look similar you’re having a unsmooth time, let’s beryllium down for a chat and a coffee,” conscionable arsenic I would.

Adam Kelwick, International struggle zones

 Adam Kelwick.
‘As a humanitarian I enactment anyone’: Adam Kelwick. Photograph: Shaw & Shaw/The Observer

I came to Islam successful my precocious teens and was precise rapidly accepted. Naturally, I recovered myself gathering bridges betwixt the Muslim assemblage and wider British society, convincing each that the different wasn’t retired to get them. Chaplaincy felt similar the evident adjacent step, and astir 20 years agone I attended my archetypal grooming course. Being a chaplain is akin to being an Imam, it’s conscionable I tin spell to wherever the radical are without being tied down to a mosque oregon circumstantial location. In my clip I’ve been the chaplain for hospitals and some Merseyside’s constabulary and its High Sheriff.

More recently, I’ve turned to planetary humanitarian work, moving with radical successful immoderate of the world’s astir challenging environments. Three weeks agone I was successful Yemen; I’ll beryllium heading to Syria this month, again. In the past, I’ve worked successful Iraq and Somalia. Right aft Isis was expelled from the eastbound broadside of Mosul, I was portion of the archetypal planetary NGO squad to participate the city.

In situations similar this, exigency projects are the focus: nutrient and support; responding to wellness needs, some intelligence and physical. We ne'er run successful an progressive struggle country and I’m fortunate to enactment with organisations who look retired for my information and security.

I perpetually punctual myself I’m not a saviour arriving from the westbound – my religion and outlook makes it clear: I’m their servant. As a humanitarian I enactment anyone. Someone’s religion is immaterial. I whitethorn often beryllium successful Muslim-majority countries – that’s wherever galore crises are – but we’ve worked with radical of each faiths and backgrounds. I spent agelong periods successful the Calais Jungle, and a batch if clip with Ethiopian Christians. We don’t discriminate betwixt the vulnerable: it’s a cosmopolitan information that the lone victors successful conflicts are the affluent and powerful.

Of course, radical recognise I’m a Muslim and immoderate I conscionable privation spiritual counsel. Usually, this simply means sitting down to listen. Islamic contented teaches america that smiling successful the look of your member is simply a signifier of charity. Often, the astir important happening I tin springiness is my clip and attention.

I walk truthful overmuch clip with radical surviving done the astir hard circumstances you tin imagine, and yet I instrumentality to England knowing they’ve fixed maine acold much than I could ever springiness them. In the look of unit and starvation, displacement and death, I observe perseverance and patience; resilience and compassion. When I travel home, I can’t assistance but consciousness a consciousness of contentment. That’s something, I think, we’re missing successful our society. You mightiness expect determination to beryllium a situation of religion successful the places I go, but honestly? I spot the opposite.

Over here, erstwhile thing goes wrong, radical inquire God: wherefore me? I don’t perceive this question erstwhile I’m successful these places. Faith implicit determination is of a antithetic substance: God tests the ones helium loves; his beingness isn’t babelike lone connected bully things happening to individuals. Even successful the astir tragic and trying of moments, erstwhile I inquire idiosyncratic however they are coping, they’ll say, ‘Alhamdulillah’, which means ‘Thank God’ successful Arabic. I find that incredibly humbling.

Parminder Kondral MBE, Sikh Chaplaincy, UK

 Parminder Kondral MBE.
‘When radical are astatine determination lowest, they request idiosyncratic adjacent them’: Parminder Kondral MBE. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

After 35 years successful the civilian work I retired successful 2012. Before past I’d done a spot of volunteering successful my section hospitals. With much spare time, I began spending clip moving with radical going done intelligence wellness hearings. At the clip erstwhile they’re astatine their lowest, they request idiosyncratic adjacent them. My begetter was a spiritual antheral and religion had ever been important to me.

I’m the National Coordinator for Sikh Chaplaincy, UK, and a batch of my enactment involves coordination crossed the state ensuring my colleagues person the enactment they need. I walk clip moving with section gurdwaras, and reassuring radical that, contempt the connection “chaplain” having Christian connotations, I’m precise overmuch Sikh, convey you.

With patients, I surely marque definite their spiritual needs are met, but much often than not, the radical who I sojourn don’t privation to speech astir religion oregon practice. Sikh oregon not, I’ll connection up my presence. Conversations tin instrumentality immoderate path, it’s portion of what I enjoy. One time I mightiness find myself discussing TV shows, the adjacent I’m exploring the meaning of beingness with a precise observant Muslim.

They often privation reassurance that things volition beryllium OK, and if they won’t be, there’s thing to beryllium acrophobic of. Sikhism teaches america determination are 5 virtues which instrumentality america person to God: truth, compassion, contentment, humility and love. I instrumentality these with maine connected each visit, arsenic I clasp your manus and inquire what you need. If I’m caring for a Sikh person, we’ll recite prayers and work scripture.

Some days are hard and, of course, the diligent is my priority. But astatine times, I bash request to instrumentality a infinitesimal to constitute myself. When I was a superior schoolhouse pupil, my teacher – not a Sikh – taught maine a prayer. It’s 1 I accidental regularly, and person taught to my children: “Thank you, God, for each you give; beingness and emotion and spot to live.” I inactive crook to that regularly.

Through Covid we spent a batch of clip connected Zoom; not being a carnal beingness for patients was acold from ideal. I did what I could, but I missed being look to face. You request that interaction erstwhile serving those successful need: the aged and the isolated, the acrophobic and vulnerable. I’m surely nary doctor, but what america chaplains bash successful hospitals is besides healing.

Pippa Swan, HM Prison Maghaberry, Co Antrim

 Pippa Swan.
‘I whitethorn not judge successful God, but I judge successful redemption’: Pippa Swan. Photograph: Elish McCormick/The Observer

Prisons are inevitably challenging environments to unrecorded and enactment in. There’s an added furniture of complication for me, being a humanist successful a highly spiritual and sectarian Northern Ireland. I’m English originally, but person lived present for 15 years. I find astatine times being an outsider works to my advantage.

I’ve been a practising vet for 30 years and happened to stumble crossed an advert from Humanists UK erstwhile they were looking for radical to supply enactment to radical from a non-religious perspective. After immoderate training, I got to enactment successful Maghaberry Prison, a high-security men’s installation adjacent Lisburn.

The situation wasn’t acceptable up for non-religious volunteers similar me; dissimilar successful England, we’re not portion of the authoritative chaplaincy service. That means nary entree to existing infrastructure oregon state-funded resources. Instead, we’ve had to enactment it each retired ourselves, from the IT systems to directions. We’ve besides got our enactment chopped retired educating radical with what it is I tin offer: “non-religious pastoral carer” is rather the mouthful.

I’ve met radical blameworthy of murder, cause and intersexual offences; those with a agelong database of past crimes, others locked up for their archetypal conviction. Some pastoral carers take not to cognize what it is the radical they sojourn are blameworthy of. It’s a way, truthful they say, of creating an situation escaped from judgment. But I similar to cognize someone’s history; it’s for my ain protection. If I’m going to prolong a narration with someone, I privation to bash truthful connected unfastened crushed from the offset.

It’s not counselling that I bash – I don’t grapple with people’s pasts; coaching, meanwhile, feels much astir the future. Instead, my relation is astir the present: walking alongside someone, briefly, and helping them enactment upright and balanced.

Without the rigidity of a spiritual regularisation publication to usher you, rationalising close and incorrect – and knowing what my relation mightiness beryllium – takes superior consideration. I’ve started studying for an MA successful “existential and humanist pastoral care” to walk clip questioning this properly. In the end, determination are nary acceptable steps; nary doctrine to obey. I whitethorn not judge successful God, but I judge successful humanity and redemption. I find meaning successful beingness by connecting with others – successful prisons that tin beryllium hard for inmates. Many person fewer relationships and immoderate person nary interaction with the extracurricular world. So I effort to beryllium determination instead. Person to person, I physique connections.

I person conversations with radical I’d ne'er different meet, astir each sorts of unexpected topics. I wanted to situation myself and my ideas. At archetypal I was amazed astatine however rapidly I could subordinate to the men I met. Stepping retired of my middle-class bubble, I began to recognize however and wherefore radical bash what they do. The inequalities and circumstances beyond an individual’s power – the inevitability. There’s a crushed wherefore radical bash atrocious things, anyone tin autumn connected hard times. Someone should ever beryllium determination to enactment you. If prisons tin service immoderate function, they person to beryllium places of rehabilitation. Why not see, I’ve said to myself, if I tin successful immoderate tiny mode beryllium portion of that process.

Rabbi Menachem Junik, Jewish Care, London

 Rabbi Menachem Junik.
‘Showing mercy sits astatine the bosom of what my Judaism means’: Rabbi Menachem Junik. Photograph: Yiannis Kourtoglou/The Observer

As the pastoral and spiritual pb for Jewish Care (a wellness and societal attraction charity) I enactment radical from the infinitesimal they measurement ft successful our homes: some residents and their families.

I arrived successful England via the United States and Johannesburg, earlier settling successful London. Not acold from wherever I moved was a Jewish Care home. I decided to sojourn with my kids astatine the archetypal opportunity. Kindness, aft all, is the top mitzvah [good deed] you tin bash successful our religion. I made connections, and started going backmost week connected week, voluntarily. A twelvemonth oregon truthful later, I was asked to enactment the 800 residents crossed their homes permanently.

I counsel connected the bigger picture, but the bulk of my enactment is 1 connected one: for each involved, coming to a location tin beryllium a immense adjustment. Seeing a genitor determination to a residential mounting tin beryllium tough; residents request to find a mode to consciousness settled and independent. We person individuals from each affiliations and nary successful our homes; orthodox to wholly non-observant. In what I do, everyone is made to consciousness welcome.

A batch of my clip is spent supporting radical astatine the extremity of beingness – an incredibly important period. I effort to connection affectional and spiritual support, providing guidance, wherever I can, from Jewish teaching. Judaism tells america that erstwhile a kid is born, it arrives successful the satellite axenic and holy. At the clip of idiosyncratic passing, they modulation backmost to the spiritual realm; successful the satellite to travel there’s reward for those who lived lives of generosity.

Often, I crook to song, and not conscionable supplication but music. There’s a spirituality to sound; it helps radical to reconnect with mislaid loved ones and their often distant childhoods. This tin particularly beryllium true, I find, for radical surviving with dementia.

Yesterday, I was astir to permission a location but was stopped. “Rabbi,” a pistillate said, “my mum is dying.” We’d ne'er met, but this girl was struggling. I went upstairs and joined their family. We spoke for a while, astir the intent of beingness and however to look these moments calmly. They weren’t hugely religious, truthful I asked what mightiness help. At their request, I sang a supplication from the festival of Yom Kippur arsenic we stood by their mother’s bedside successful her last moments. It brought them comfort.

From clip to time, I person to spell consecutive from a heartbreaking decease to an lawsuit oregon meeting. That tin beryllium testing; the enactment of my colleagues and household is vital. But showing mercy, being charitable and showing up for radical sits astatine the bosom of what my Judaism means. You get done it.

My enactment is besides astir enriching life, injecting intent and meaning erstwhile – , for many, worlds are changing rapidly. To invited successful the Sabbath we person a work crossed each our homes; I organise activities astir Jewish festivals and springiness acquisition talks erstwhile wanted. My top joyousness comes from celebrating Simchas: we person 2nd Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and renewals of vows; determination are celebrations for centenarians and blessings for newborn great-grandchildren.

Judaism is simply a mode of life, acold much than a religion. Some articulation america due to the fact that they travel our customs and rituals strictly; others are mostly funny successful the chickenhearted soup. Wherever you stand, I’ll beryllium determination adjacent to you.