A ministry of presence: reflections on aged-care chaplaincy
Kathy Friebel is Chaplain at St Andrews Aged Care at Tallebudgera, one of Lutheran Services’ ten supported living communities in Queensland.
Age-care chaplains in Lutheran Services are sometimes referred to as ‘architects of community’, as they help people maintain important connections and create new ones.
‘We work alongside staff and volunteers to provide holistic care for each individual according to their unique needs, within the context of a community setting’, Kathy explains. ‘Many residents and staff have little or no reference point to the Christian faith and this challenges us to be “salt and light” in creative ways as we witness to a wide range of people in our actions and words, both spoken and written.’
Facilitating and leading worship is an integral part of the role of a Lutheran Services aged-care chaplain, as well as creating safe spaces for sacred conversations for individuals and groups.
‘The majority of people who live in a residential aged-care facility are not there by choice but because of circumstance’, she continues. ‘The transition into this living space can happen unexpectedly and involve multiple losses, which means there is a lot to process emotionally for residents and families.’
Among these losses, Kathy explains, can be their health, abilities, familiar surroundings, independence and mobility, and memory and cognition, which lead to loss of identity, loss of belonging and a crisis of spirituality. All these losses lead many in an aged-care facility to feel challenged, questioning their own sense of self.
‘Chaplaincy is often described as a “ministry of presence”’, Kathy elaborates, explaining that in a residential aged-care facility many residents struggle with their reality as a ‘human being’ as opposed to a ‘human doing’. When the worldly measures of status, beauty, strength, activity, power, position and wealth are lost amid the aging process, identity is often challenged, and individuals work through a reframing of who they are.
‘To journey with residents in this important chapter of their lives is indeed a privilege’, she says. ‘Respectful and caring relationships are critical to the quality of life of each resident.’
Over the course of her career Kathy has spent much time reflecting on her experiences and her role. She has written the following poem based on these reflections and the time she has spent with many different residents.
A blank canvas is the gift I offer, as you write your final chapter.
Paint your story the way you choose, free from judgement or expectation.
What is meaningful to you?
Tell me a lot, or tell me a little, the highs and lows, joys and sorrows.
The hopes and fears of years gone by, and those yet to come.
The opportunity to reflect on the mosaic that is your life
The parts that fit together perfectly, and the bits that never will.
I’ll sit with you in a quiet moment
Listen while you recall the essence of your being
Watch your eyes sparkle as you describe the elements that are uniquely you
The moments when your passion was ignited,
The times you danced until the wee hours of the morning,
The smell of your father’s pipe,
The taste of fresh watermelon on Christmas Day,
The moment you met the love of your life,
Welcoming your brother home from war,
The work that tired your limbs and gave you purpose.
The threads of people and places,
A treasure trove of experiences woven into your own rich tapestry
Gems of wisdom gleaned from living and observing.
The people who have shaped you, loved you, nurtured your soul,
And those who let you down.
The ‘should haves’ and ‘could haves’
A burden or secret that you have carried alone
Is safe with me if it helps you to share.
I’ll hold your hand when your heart is broken
If your body betrays you and you feel like a shell of your former self
If you don’t recognise the person reflected in the mirror
Or you feel lost and alone.
I can remind you there is no-one else like you.
You are beautiful … and you are loved.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer Lutheran hospital chaplain or would like any further information, please contact Pastor Paul Semmler on 07 3858 3020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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