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Spotlight On the Chaplaincy Team

Posted by Devon Partnership Trust in News on 18th July, 2022

We spoke to Jez Brown, Lead Chaplain, about the support the team offer, what a typical day involves and what he enjoys most about being part of this team.

What is the main purpose of your team?

We started two years ago from nothing. We exist because the 2015 NHS guidelines say ‘we believe in holistic care as an organisation, mind body and spirit’. During COVID-19, I was meeting online senior managers and directors that I would never get to see ordinarily. I was delivering daily Pause for Thoughts to keep morale high and in doing so, I built trust with lots of different directorate leads. This led to most directorates offering some financial backing to get the Chaplaincy team started. Here we are two and a half years later and I’ve now got a team of five part time Chaplains and eight trained and badged Chaplaincy Volunteers. We now have a presence on all of our inpatient wards.

We offer three things.

Religious Care
When people come into our services and state they belong to a particular religion, we’ll try to find someone from that religion to support them. People may also want support in learning more about a particular religion. Again, we will support them with this.

Pastoral care
This is a type of ‘wrap around’ support. We help people to cope with loss of any kind, whether that’s bereavement, job, status or relationship. A lot of our time is spent in trying to engender hope in people for the future. Sometimes people ask us, ‘What’s the point of life, what can I do to change things?’ By listening empathically we can try to encourage them to find answers to their own questions. Pastoral care also covers people’s personal dilemmas, for example if someone is having to make a difficult decision and they need help thinking it through. We find a lot of our time is spent around relationship issues. Pastoral care is really the stuff of life. It’s everything we go through, the ups and downs, and we’re there to offer stability and support.

Spiritual Care
The third area is spiritual care. The need to support individuals in exploring their unique understanding of the world and their place in it. For example, two years ago a patient asked me to come and look at a tree with him that was just coming into bud. It led this patient to think about nature and to ask the question as to whether there might be a Creator behind it. My job in that sense of spiritually was to help the patient reflect further on nature all around him and to support him on that journey of discovery.

The Chaplaincy Team is also part of the Devon Wellbeing Hub. Out of the 40 wellbeing hubs created across the UK, we’re the only one that has chaplains involved. Our Hub was able to recognise that not everyone who calls in will necessarily require a mental health intervention. Sometimes they might just want some of the wrap around care I referred to earlier. 

Going forward we want to extend our outreach into the community. As part of the Community Mental Health Framework we are looking to recruit four part time chaplains. Their primary job will be to be part of the Local Implementation Teams and they will be there to offer advice. One of the first jobs of these new recruits will be to look for volunteers that we can badge so that we can start to take referrals from clients in the community.

What does a typical day look like?

It is extremely varied. For Ian and Barbara, working in the Hub, they receive referrals and make contact with them - asking how they would like to talk e.g. phone call, MS Teams or face-to-face. From there on in we don’t put any limits on the number of times we meet, because what tends to happen in pastoral care is that when someone has your trust and is sharing stuff that is hurting them, they learn to trust you and they share some more, and more issues are revealed. You might well start with one presented issue but you may find over time that more issues come up.

When our chaplains work on wards, they will often ‘loiter with intent’. We might do a jigsaw puzzle or sit in the corner and read a book. This draws the clients out and they might come over to us or get involved in the jigsaw. We pick up conversations when people feel comfortable to talk to us. 

We also get involved with therapeutic engagement around 1:1 conversations, and trips out to places like Buckfast Abbey, Exeter Cathedral and other places of worship to support faith development. We also get involved in supporting patients in Tribunals and care review meetings.

Part of my role is to take community referrals from clients and so I can be out on the road quite a bit. It is always rewarding to engage in face-to-face conversations with people looking for support and encouragement.

Management of staff and workload is also a big part of the work that I do day-to-day, which is important if we are to continue to be an effective, growing team going forward.

So every day is unique. Sometimes nothing on my ‘To Do’ list gets done – but I know that I helped some people along the way. That’s how we rock around here. Nothing is ever quite as you think it’s going to be.

What qualifications and training do the team have? And what career paths have people taken?

Each of the chaplains has got a story to tell, but my story is that I was bought up in a non-religious family and my dad was a bank manager. I loved numbers from an early age so when I left school I went into accountancy. That was a lovely life, but for me there was a sense of a deeper vocation. I really felt I was being called to do something else. So I went off to Spurgeon’s College in London, a Baptist Ministerial Training College, where I completed a three year Theology degree, followed by a pastoral diploma. Then I went on to work in churches. My first church was in Essex, near Southend, where I served for five years. I then moved to a church in Preston, Paignton where I worked for five years. I was then called to be a Regional Minister, which is like a ‘Baptist Bishop’, so for 13 years I was Regional Minister of the South West, before returning to Preston for four more years.

During my Regional Ministry post I had, for eight years, also been working one day a week at Langdon Hospital. One day, I discovered that DPT was looking to create a Chaplaincy Department and I was immediately drawn to apply to become Lead Chaplain and start the work of building a new department.

And so, at the age of 59, I left local church ministry and everything I knew, to start a new career in the NHS! Two years later and I am thoroughly enjoying the variety of work that I am engaged in.

Chaplains come from many and varied backgrounds and life experiences. What we’re looking for when we recruit, are people who are accredited via their religious grouping or, in the case of Humanists, by their validating Board.

What are some of the challenges the team faces?

Funding is always an issue for us, and in that regard we are stretched just as other directorates are. On the wards we are stretched very thinly as we are in the Community. We have sufficient resources in the Wellbeing Hub.

The other challenge we have is getting people to understand that whilst, currently, all of our Chaplains are Christians, you haven’t got to believe what we believe to talk to us! At Langdon Hospital, we get invited to talk to all new staff during their Induction Week, answering their questions and telling them what we do. Once you’ve had an opportunity to explain who you are and what you do, people start to see us as being just like them.

Our biggest challenge is always around finding ways of educating long-standing staff about the work that we do, in order to overcome some of their incorrect presumptions about us. We are here for everybody, regardless of their personal faith or beliefs. We’ll deliver our services to whoever requires it.

What do you enjoy most about being part of this team?

For me, having been a minister for 40 odd years, whilst in that role you are always meeting people, such engagement is often on the church’s terms. In this role, as a NHS Chaplain it’s definitely taken me out of my comfort zone and helped me to realise that when I walk onto a ward, I’m really walking into someone else’s home and therefore our conversation should really be on their terms.

We do make sure we take good care of each other in the team because we tend to work on our own the majority of time, and so we need to work at creating a sense of belonging for everybody in the team. You can be lonely in a crowd, and for chaplains working among people, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not lonely. And so we do keep in close touch and we’ve also got some good people around us, offering all sorts of support and encouragement.

What motivates your team?

The ‘breakthrough moments’ are what motivates me. During my time at Langdon Hospital, I had real moments of cohesive understanding and conversation with patients, and then it’s like suddenly they’re on a space ship that’s gone to the far side of the moon where you go out of communication and everything closes down.

On one occasion, I was talking to a patient and realised I only had a few moments left to offer him something encouraging to reflect on before he would return to ‘a dark place’ within himself. We talked a bit about faith as that’s what he wanted to do, and then he closed down. I went back a day or two later and he came up to me with this lovely smile on his face. He just turned to me out of the blue and said: ‘Jez, what has God done for you today?’ It was a special moment. It still makes me teary thinking about it now. In that dark place, this patient had obviously had some sort of religious experience and now he wanted to find out what God was doing in my life. It felt to me like this was a building up of my faith in the most unlikely of situations. It was a beautiful moment and one that I will never forget.

What do you and your team do to unwind?

When I was younger I used to play a lot of sport, particularly football. As the years have gone by, I’ve stopped doing that and I now go and watch a lot of football. I’m a season ticket holder of my beloved Torquay United! I’ve also been a stamp collector for many years. I also like to play guitar and in my teenage years I played and sang in a band.

What do the rest of my team do to unwind? You’ll have to ask then in subsequent interviews! They have a wide variety of hobbies and interests!

And finally… how would you sum up your team in one word?

That’s a great question and one that makes me emotional just thinking about it. The one word would have to be…’Committed’. I know that if I was to ring any of them at two in the morning and say ‘look we’ve got an emergency’, they would respond immediately. I’m very proud of them.

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