A heart for chaplaincy

lauren mossoDEB BENNETT

As the coordinator of chaplaincy at Epworth Hospital in Richmond, Rev Lauren Mosso is continuing a decades-long church relationship with the hospital.

“The role of chaplain and pastoral care coordinator has been held by a Uniting Church (or Methodist) minister down through the ages. There’s a chain of people of whom I’m very proud to be one,” Ms Mosso said.

This tradition dates back to Methodist minister Rev William J Palamountain, who worked for more than five years to organise the finance to establish the hospital. With the support of prominent Methodist businessmen and philanthropists of the time, Epworth opened its doors in 1920 as a 25-bed hospital under the auspices of the Methodist Church.

Named after the birthplace of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, the hospital states it “reflects the ideals of the Methodist Church in providing the highest possible standard of care to patients”.

Much has changed since those very early days, when the hospital was based in the converted Yallcowinna mansion, but Ms Mosso said the Christian values of caring for the sick are still evident in her work today.

“That connection between the Epworth and the Uniting Church remains very strong.

“There is a UC minister on the ethics committee here specifically to bring in the Christian (Uniting Church) perspective.

“There is a long tradition of Clinical Pastoral Training (CPE) at Epworth. Rev Tom Rose is the Centre Director and I am a provisional supervisor in the program.”

Part of the training is to recognise when personal experience of hardship or trauma might impact on the pastoral carer’s role.

“We are trained to listen deeply to the patient, but also our own heart and our own issues so it doesn’t interfere with dealing with the patient,” Ms Mosso said. “We can deal with it later with our own supervisor or colleague.

“Sometimes it is about the process of death and dying and how do you want to live out your last bit of time that you’ve got. We engage in deep discussion about what gives your life real meaning.”

The ‘listening’ aspect of chaplaincy is what differentiates the role from that of a welfare worker. A welfare worker will often be task orientated; helping a patient with money issues or living arrangements when they return home. For a chaplain, the conversations are not results driven, it is about listening without judgement or an agenda.

Ms Mosso said another important part of CPE training is to confront challenges to the chaplain’s personal faith.

“The analogy I use is that my oxygen mask that keeps my spirituality alive isn’t something I’m going to go and clamp over someone else’s face. It’s appreciating the different beliefs for different people. I believe that is God’s stance towards all of us.

“I try to be congruent with what I believe, but it’s not my role to convert. It’s my role to support the other person with whatever gives their life meaning and purpose.”

A typical day for a hospital chaplain includes visiting patients, responding to referrals, offering support to family members and supporting staff who may be affected by various issues.

Members of the pastoral team take it in turns to hold an ecumenical Christian service in the hospital chapel every Sunday morning at 10 o’clock. Patients who are unable to attend can access the service via their televisions and communion is offered at the bedside to patients on an individual basis. Ms Mosso said the relationship with neighbouring churches is vital, with priests from St Ignatius visiting to offer the sacrament of anointing to catholic patients and ministers from St Stephens visiting patients of the Anglican faith.

Ms Mosso said the work of a hospital chaplain presents opportunities to engage with people on a deep level when they are facing profound emotions in their life.

“I have a heart for hospital ministry. Being with people in their life and death issues, the stuff of real life ministry is what attracts me. We are meeting people at a really pivotal time in their life, so the intensity is much greater than in normal ministry.

Epworth Richmond employs seven CPE-qualified pastoral care workers with a diversity of gifts.

“Our pastoral team is a lovely group of people who have a real passion for what we do. So to be a part of this, to be the coordinator of this team, is a great privilege.”

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