Healthy attitude to hospital visits

I remember the first day of my ministry. It was in Norwich and on the very day I arrived a fellow curate suggested we visited the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

I remember the first day of my ministry. It was in Norwich and on the very day I arrived a fellow curate suggested we visited the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. I saw myself as God's Gift to the Church in Norwich. In my imagination I was gliding down the wards of grateful patients as I bestowed a smile and words of comfort on them. But life ain't like that.

I quickly discovered that not everybody in hospital is that anxious to see a clergyman. There were three chaplains representing the main denominations Anglican, Catholic and Free Church.

We got on well together and supported each other. I realised that I was intended to visit hospital for the benefit of the patients rather than an ego trip for myself. At first I told the patients I visited that I was a beginner.

The result was that I received a lot of encouragement and quite a few grapes.


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One of the few hostile receptions I got in 40 years of hospital visiting was from a man who told me to go away as he didn't want to see me until he was dying.

I expressed the hope that I would be around on that occasion.

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Random memories come to mind. Few patients complained and most sang the praises of the medical and nursing staff, a chorus in which I joined.

My overwhelming memory is of good humour. Some of the situations were funny and people have to be very much stricken to suppress their sense of humour. I have on occasions witnessed miracles.

I have not myself witnessed miracles of physical healing though they do occur.

Christ's Ministry to the Sick goes on daily. How else can a sudden influx of confidence in the face of serious illness be explained?

In a hospital there is a vast range of illness ranging from the trivial to the terminal.

Some patients are difficult and can make the staff's life a hell. However anger can conceal fear and I have certainly seen skilful empathy heal the anger by removing the fear.

Other events come to mind. I was asked by a very expectant mother to pray that she should have a son. I managed to persuade her that it was a bit late for that prayer to be operative and we settled for a prayer for a safe delivery.

Some, I have to admit, were unfriendly and in one case a young lady in the maternity ward asked “Who the hell are you?”

I replied that I was her Avon representative. I seem to remember that Avon was a supplier of beauty products who called on customers at their home.

A look at my mugshot above will tell readers that beauty and I are far removed from each other. However the patient believed me and asked how I combined selling beauty goods with being a vicar.

One frustration I had is trying, largely in vain, to persuade people that we do not use the term “Last Rites” when we administer the Sacrament of the Sick.

I have even resorted to calling the Anointing of the Sick the 3000 mile Lubrication Service to make the point that the sacrament is for the living not the half-dead.

One is that people can take seriously the words of a clergyman. I told one lady she had been selected for the ward hockey team.

The ward sister was none too pleased when the lady, well on into her 80s, demanded to prepare for the game - at three o'clock in the morning.

Another is that we clergymen have been known to give medical opinions.

The story goes that when a consultant was given a detailed medical report on a patient by a chaplain with suggested treatment the doctor offered to hear the patient's confession.

In one area of medicine however I excel. I am told that my sermons are an effective anaesthetic putting people to sleep.

One day I found an ex-parishioner in the hospital. She had moved to a parish that had a wonderful parish priest.

He was and still is an example of humble service. To my surprise the lady said she preferred me to be her parish priest. Any pride in my heart vanished as she explained.

She said that her new priest was so good and she was a dirty rotten old sinner.

She felt more at ease with me because I was a dirty rotten sinner too. Should I have been flattered?

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