Working together for a better world...
Today was the second day of our chaplaincy training course. As part of the Buddhist Healthcare Chaplaincy Group I have been involved in the inter-Buddhist process of establish an endorsing body for Buddhist healthcare chaplains within the UK for more than ten years, and more recently have been involved in devloping training for those interested in the process. This weekend was the start of the most substantive course which I have been involved in teaching on the topic.
Chaplaincy is interesting in that it stands at the interface between the religious and the secular. The chaplain moves between the world of their faith community and that of an organisation in which they are mandated to operate. She or he takes into the everyday situation the light of their spiritual path, illuminating the ordinary and the crisis situation with an exploration of meaning and faith and throwing into relief issues of spiritual or ethical significance.
The journey into this liminal space requires two things. On the one hand we need to be grounded in our own spiritual practice or faith. We need to be able to take refuge; to experience a depth of connection to our spiritual source in the moment of contact with the patient, prisoner, student or whoever we are serving, so that we become a solid rock for them as they facing distress. On the other hand we need openness and flexibility, and the ability to listen and express spiritual matters in a language which works for the person to whom we are addressing it. We need to be able to find the point of connection, which is often based on a feeling sense of commonality rather than an intellectual level. We can discuss religious matters without getting bogged down in dogma if we find new language to describe our experience rather than relying on formulations.
In the two days of this first workshop we explored both the professional and the personal. How does our own experience inform our work? How do our own struggles with faith, with facing ageing, sickness and death and with relating to others, enable us to deepen our practice? Chaplaincy is about presence in the difficult places of life, but it is also about the everyday; conversations about family and pets or about life and death.
One thing which we discussed was the five principles of chaplaincy:
This formulation, developed by the free-church chaplains, emphasises the values within which hospital chaplaincy is carried out - particularly that the chaplain works in an open handed way - not pushing a religious agenda and being available to those of other faiths or none.
This sort of approach is one I particularly appreciate because I find that setting aside the personal religious agenda in favour of meeting the patient or staff member in their spiritual space creates a situation where I am invited into the intimacy of another person's beliefs and values, and challenged to find ways of communicatig about them which work for both of us. More though, it challenges me to find words to describe religious experience without resorting to the sort of short cuts and jargon which can gloss over real meaning.
Our next training weekend happens in June. It is aimed particularly at Buddhists of any school (and the more variety, the richer) who are interested in developing basic skills as hospital or other chaplains.
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