Friday, 16 December 2011

Faith in action

Yesterday I went on another ‘visit’ with Bishop Alan Hopes - who’s stalking who is as yet unclear!

This time we were at Whittington Hospital in North London. Bishop Alan met with the Board of Trustees before celebrating Mass in the hospital’s chapel. The Mass included a special blessing of the new Tabernacle and was attended by around thirty people, including staff, a few patients, volunteers and local people who had heard the Bishop would be presiding.

Fr Mark Smith, who is the full time chaplain to Whittington hospital, invited everyone to stay for a buffet lunch that had been put on in honour of the Bishop’s visit. Over a plate of picnic food I chatted to Fr Mark about his day to day responsibilities at the hospital and how he manages to stay so positive when a lot of the time he is ministering to people who are terminally ill. It is clear that Fr Mark is sustained by his faith, which motivates him to comfort the sick and lonely every day.

Bishop Alan and I then accompanied Fr Mark, Fr Peter Scott (who co-ordinates all the healthcare chaplains for the diocese) and Sr Aideen on their daily ward rounds. Fr Mark and Sr Aideen visit the intensive care unit every day but take it in turns to visit other wards, along with the Anglican chaplain. The Bishop seemed to have taken on celebrity status in the hospital and people’s faces visibly lit up on seeing him. He spoke with junior doctors, ward sisters and volunteers, congratulating them on their hard work as well as speaking with patients, many of whom were emotionally overwhelmed by the genuine interest he took in their suffering.

Fr Mark with patient Michael, Bishop Alan, Sr Aideen and Fr  Peter

The hospital had a wonderfully festive feel to it, with fierce competition between the staff to win the ‘best dressed ward’ prize of a box of biscuits and bottle of Champagne. Fr Mark, Fr Peter and Sr Aideen are obviously very highly respected and well liked around the hospital, but told me of the difficulty in having a purposeful presence on the wards whilst not getting in the way of the staff.

Hospital chaplains, they said, have worked hard to improve the image of priests on the wards over the last ten or twenty years as people use to be quite fearful of them – assuming someone was about to pass away. Now, however, people recognise the priest as someone there to offer pastoral care, to have a friendly chat with or confide in.

On the drive back to Archbishop’s House, Bishop Alan said that the visit had left him energised – a feeling that I’m sure was shared by everyone who met him throughout the afternoon. I feel very privileged to witness the churches faith in action and to have experienced its positive effects. 

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