Friday, February 19, 2010

Kalyana Mitra (2)

Last weekend saw the first session in a series of five, at which eight aspiring chaplains met with two trainers, Keith Munnings and Chris Blomley, to set out on the path to accreditation and eventual registration as Buddhist chaplains.

This sounds a very formal process, and in one sense it 'has to be' if Buddhists are to have a recognised role within the many formal institutions where spiritual need is perceived to exist, and deserves a response. Such institutions include the health and welfare services, schools, colleges and universities, the whole range of criminal justice provision, immigration and asylum, and much more besides.

But, despite the implicit seriousness of the undertaking, the session we attended turned out to be great fun, and pervaded by a lightness of tone that was in no small part a product of the preparations made by the two facilitators and - of course - the commitment of the participants, who threw themselves enthusiastically into the work, and clearly enjoyed it.

There was a minimum of necessary expository stuff, scene-setting and putting the programme in a broader context, and we soon got down to some experiential work, exploring the qualities of a 'good' chaplain by testing ourselves out with each other in a variety of challenging and realistic scenarios, and reflecting together with the two trainers on what we experienced, "how we did".

We met in a rather small room in part of the chaplaincy at St Thomas's Hospital in Lambeth, so for our experiential work we spread out into the surrounding hospital premises, and I found myself in the Central Hall on the Northern Wing of the hospital (pictured above top left), where there were benches we could use and we would be neither overlooked not overheard as we worked, and probably looked entirely natural to a casual onlooker.

I had time to take a look at some of the features of the Hall, and my eye was drawn to two glass-fronted cabinets, each full of a montage of nurses' hospital badges, in the famous dark blue enamel of St Thomas's Nightingale School of Nursing (top right). Each badge was identified as having been awarded to a named nurse, and most of the badges had been awarded on completion of training to nurses in the earlier part of the 20th century, 1921, 1933 etc. There must have been 200-300 badges in those cabinets. All presumably returned to the hospital after the nurse's death.

This was a poignant moment for me, as I have recently retired from nursing after 50 years of uninterrupted nursing practice. Unfortunately, my own nursing badges, awarded on completion, were stolen, so they will not survive my death to be returned to my training schools, which - in any case - have not survived themselves. Indeed the hospitals have now been closed, and in part demolished, although the Casualty and Accident Departments of Hackney Hospital where I trained in 1956-1959 are still there in Homerton High Street, E9, and still evoke memories when I occasionally pass.

Hollymoor Hospital and Highcroft Hospital in Birmingham, where I trained as a psychiatric nurse, are now demolished too, nothing remains but memories, and a collection of photographs and reminiscences. Hollymoor was famous during the Second World War for its pioneering approach to therapy for "shell-shocked" officers, out of which were developed modern treatments for 'psychoneurotic' disorders (such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, anxiety-states, and many moderate forms of clinical depression).

From the past to the future: the image at the top of the page is of some members of the chaplaincy team to which I belong at Mid-Essex Hospital Services NHS Foundation Trust, dressed up in protective clothing to pay a visit to the newly commissioned Faith Room, installed in the new PFI hospital being developed on the site of Broomfield Hospital near Chelmsford. I am second from right, next to Imam Hafiz Ahmed, our Muslim chaplain. He tells me he gets the name Hafiz because he has managed to memorise the whole Qu'ran. I intended to ask him if he would tell me how we was tested on it, but didn't get the time. Is a candidate allowed to make one or two slips, like in the driving test? I almost certain he would be willing to let me in on this, he is a most accommodating chap, with a very friendly smile, despite his rather stern Abrahamic appearance in the picture.

There will be a multi-faith dedication ceremony in August, by which time the Faith Room will be ready for use on the same floor as the acute medical units and emergency rooms of the new hospital. Most of the planning for the ceremony has been done, and I'm in process of obtaining some Buddhist artefacts for use (as appropriate) by people who want to use the Faith Room for Buddhist purposes at any time. These will generally be stored out of sight when not in use, so that the Faith Room is otherwise featureless in terms of religious symbolism, and available to all for quiet reflection etc at any time.

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