The importance of chaplaincy at St Wilfrid’s Hospice
When we think of hospice care we often think about nurses, doctors, carers and bereavement support. But hospice care is also about physical and spiritual wellbeing. Rev. Allison Becker joined St Wilfrid’s as the Chaplain in September last year, here she tells us about her role and its importance in hospice care.
What is a chaplain?
A chaplain is a member of the clergy whose main setting for work is non-religious – a location out in society, often a clinical setting but also places like schools and prisons.
I am ordained clergyperson of the Christian faith, but as a chaplain I’m here to speak to everyone. I’m not here to convert or convince, I come without agenda. I’m here to listen and offer spiritual and faith support to patients, staff and families.
Why is chaplaincy important?
I think all humans are spiritual, I think we have core questions like ‘is there a god?’ ‘What happens after we die?’ ‘What is the nature of being human?’ ‘What does it mean to have purpose?’ Whatever a person’s answer to these questions, those are beliefs about the spiritual.
Our answers to these questions affect our approach to living, our approach to death. So I think everyone is need of someone to walk through those questions, to have support for those questions. Our core beliefs of the spiritual inform so much of who we are as humans.’
How do you support a person with their faith?
‘Personally, I have a Christian faith, and if someone wants to explore that faith with me then we do that. Near the end of life, people often have questions about what the Christian faith is and what it means, and I can explore that with them, once I am sure that that is what they are asking of me.
I’m also well versed in other faiths – part of my job is to inform the teams at St Wilfrid’s so that they have better awareness and can respect a patient’s faith, belief, wishes and priorities. That includes faith informed dietary requirements, access to resources and adaptations for prayer.
Relationships with local inter-faith clergy are also really important and something I have been trying to build. I’m really grateful for the mutual respect of our distinctions; we are not the same thing; our beliefs are distinct and diverse. At the same time there is respect of one another. So I can call an Imam (or a Rabbi or a Catholic Priest or any other faith leader), and I can ask questions to make sure we really are ready to come alongside a patient. We often have that faith leader come into the hospice (if requested by a patient) to offer more direct support too.’
How do you support those of no faith?
‘As the humans that they are. I remember a patient once told me ‘when you snuff it, you snuff it.’ You might think that is conversation done, they don’t not want faith support. But they are still a spiritual person and their beliefs about spirituality still inform their living. If you believe this life is all we have, then what does it mean for the time you have left? For your relationships, for the things you want to do with the time you have left? These are important questions that I can walk alongside somebody with and help them find their answers.’
Where does chaplaincy happen?
‘Hospice is an idea, not just a location, so we have various locations, including the Inpatient Unit, the Living Well centre, and care out in the community. Usually, I meet patients face to face at the hospice, over the telephone, or online for support.
In the hospice we have The Retreat – a place for prayer, meditation or a quiet moment. It’s a key resource for faith and belief engagement for patients, families, and staff. There are prayer rugs, prayer kneelers, sacred texts, rosaries, books, and all sorts in there.
Having a place that is not only appropriate but very conducive and equipped for faith and prayer is critical. It’s an ongoing project, but it’s my responsibility to have awareness of what should – and should not – be there for it to be a welcoming and useful space for everyone.’
What are your hopes for the future of Chaplaincy at St Wilfrid’s?
‘I want the community to know the hospice is for them. I’m trying to identify any barriers to people accessing our care – intentional or unintentional – so that everyone feels that the hospice is a safe and inviting place for them.’