Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hospital Chaplaincy

Yesterday was my induction as an honorary lay Buddhist chaplain to Mid-Essex Hospitals Foundation NHS Trust (I'm not sure I got all those titles in the right order), at a ceremony conducted by the Bishop of Chelmsford, "Bishop John". That's his picture, with his wife. The induction wasn't only about me, as it primarily concerned the formal induction of a new Church of England chaplain, Doug Loveridge, but I was included together with some other chaplaincy volunteers, of which Guy has scores (or seems to have). All cheerful, positive and welcoming people.

I was invited to apply for the unpaid post by the Lead Chaplain Rev'd Guy Goodall, who (unusually for a Lead Chaplain in a hospital post) is a Free Church minister, a Methodist in fact. We've known each other for a few years mainly through intiatives Guy has taken to practice inclusiveness. The hospital in question is Broomfield Hospital, a large modern District Hospital on the outskirts of Chelmsford, in Essex, England.

The ceremony was attended by about sixty people, including several clergy from the Cathedral, and invited guests. I was invited to stand before the assembly and promised to work sensitively and cooperatively in accordance with the traditions of Buddhism and the requirements of the Trust. After doing so, I was given my "commission" signed by the Bishop, and in return I asked him if I could inflict a bit of Tibetan Buddhist ritual on him and a few others of the chaplainy team. I asked him if I could give him a "kata", the thin white scarf that is given by Tibetans as a symbolic tribute to others, high and low, as a manifest of open-heartedness and unfettered generosity. I said "it symbolises no-strings giving", and he took it with a smile. "Can I wear it?" he asked, and when I said "Please do" he put it round his neck. I had three more, which I offered to other members of the chaplaincy team, including Guy, Doug and Sister Jean, a Roman Catholic chaplain. All seemed delighted with their simple gift, and all wore them immediately

It may seem grandiose to do this, and I thought about it for a long time, but I thought that, simply done, it would be worth doing, and I was very grateful for the trouble and attention that had gone into involving me in the induction. I'm not strictly speaking (indeed not in any formal sense) a Tibetan Buddhist, but I have been influenced in that tradition by contact with Ray Wills who gave me many books on Dzogchen, "Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness", and occasionally mentored by Jigme Choder, a monk in the Nyingmapa tradition. Jigme recommended me for the post in a very generous testimonial.

I have already made visits to the wards to see people, and I'll write more about this another time, and what's involved in becoming a chaplain as a Buddhist: this in the light of developments currently taking place elsewhere, plans to train Buddhist chaplains, and much more of interest and encouragement.

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