My Pentecost

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I miss church.

Rather, I miss the gathering on Sunday- it gives a rhythm to the week (and to the weak), deepens the questions and forces me to be still. I miss seeing people; especially older people whose grasp on faith and life’s vicissitudes seems more sure than mine.

I’m not going to be angrily lobbying for a return to the buildings just yet though: the risks seem too great (although the small army of- mainly male- clerics in their 50s trying to cope with their own feelings of loss and disorientation with their ‘warrior/control’ fantasies and want to be back now) and I think we learn more from ‘exile’. However, I’ve lost a sense of the rhythm of the Christian year: I forgot-until yesterday- that today was Pentecost.

I searched for some meaning today by listening to a daily service. I’m glad that God is God: I guess God judges less than I do and doesn’t bother overmuch with the packaging but just loves regardless. I couldn’t take the service- too many major chords and cliches: I wasn’t feeling it.

I came home and sought solace in a written service. I’ve grown to like these- simple and with lots of space and a great way to begin a Sunday and reconnect. This morning as I tried to pray, keep silence and read Acts 2, it just wasn’t happening: a group of people chose that moment to stand in the road outside and started chattering about their day (I live on a well used cycle route- this often happens).

I had no silence and became irritated. It always amazes me when people think reverends are like a cross between Jesus, St Paul, Mother Teresa etc- we are not. If anything, the effort of trying to appear beatific makes us more prone to passive aggressive judgement than most people. I had quickly  written off the gathering as a chatter of smugness & tried in vain to concentrate.

Gradually I became aware of something deeper: there were hopes of a good day of cycling, but underneath that of Life, freedom, connection with friends and a sense of being little in a big landscape. Something profound was in the air and I caught a sense of it.

In the passage it says ‘How is it we hear, each of us in our own native language?’ I began to listen and sense something beneath the words that I’d otherwise -and have done so in the past-easily dismiss.

And then it was silent; really silent. I think it was the Spirit- just for a moment I had a sense of Pentecost.

 

 

Ending…and beginning?

I logged into my old domain 3 weeks ago to find out the site name had been taken: my old site had disappeared and 12 years of blog posts had disappeared. It was possible in the end to recover most of them, but for a while they had gone.

Blogging saved me: through it I found out that I was not alone and that there were other voices like mine. It allowed me to express my thoughts: someone once said that an unreflected life is not worth living & the process of trying to capture them was cathartic.

However, it came from another chapter of my life- a sabbatical back in 2008 & the determination not to slip back into a pattern where I was ‘too busy’. What I found was that you are never ‘too busy’; once you start writing, the activity starts to generate more and more writing. It isn’t necessarily that good or polished but the process starts to change you.

The period when I thought that I’d lost them was less painful than I thought: when I began doing this I was 42 and now I’m 54- life feels very different now. In those 12 years, the reality of ageing has become…a reality, at least one contemporary has died and my children are no longer little and adorably cute. Life in your 50s feels less permanent and you realise that you can take so much with you: some things have to go.

For me this represents an opportunity to start again: the process of writing and the introspection that it requires is still just as essential, but who I am and how I see things is changing.

But: will I take this opportunity?

 

Mental health chaplaincy in a time of crisis

Roadmap to Delivery

I wrote this article for ‘The College of Healthcare Chaplains’ (my professional body). Writing it was cathartic for me.

What is mental health chaplaincy like in this crisis? The answer depends largely on your Trust although there are some common themes of being (largely) stood down to work from home, the loss of chaplaincy volunteers,  being pulled more into staff support and discovering the delights of Zoom/MS teams etc. There is a sense of waiting for the mental health crisis to come, coupled with personal feelings of uncertainty and disconnection.

My experience is perhaps untypical with many in the College of Healthcare Chaplains: the ‘patch’ I cover is around a hundred miles wide and 5O deep, covers two national parks and there are several smaller units but I reckon I work around 60% of my time in community settings. I don’t have a base or office as such: this is an advantage in normal working life- I get to mix with an incredibly wide range of people & have no horizontal surfaces on which to stack superfluous paper. In this crisis, however, it means that I am a risk as I travel to so many settings, so our whole team is largely working from home. On occasion, if a request is supported by a modern matron or ward manager, team members have been able to go on a ward, but in full PPE.

Covid 19 has hit a couple of wards where I work and the death rate has been high in those wards. I knew everyone who died by name, but the option to go in and support staff is not there as it was. Phone calls are good, but you have to be aware of your own need to be needed and what would actually help- to answer the phone when a ward is working at an intensity like never before can be intrusive. Whilst a personalised email can add to the tsunami of electronic communications, it can be read when the staff member choses to do so.

Our teams have worked at a variety of ways to keep in touch:  emails to locality managers/ward managers detailing our availability, heavy use of the Trust’s internal communications, extending  times that we are available outside of our normal on call system and the setting up of one phone number to cover the whole of our (8am-8pm on call service). However some people struggle with any kind of contact via phone: they just have to know that we are available if they want to access us. In general, I find phone calls more draining than face to face contact.

We’ve also started to use more of our Trust’s software to enable virtual contacts. This is hard in a rural area where bandwith is an issue  and tech savviness is as well. I live in a rural area and have had to work from different rooms to try and get the best modem signal: not easy when my wife works from home and I have two teenage children!

Like many mental health chaplaincy teams, we’ve produced resources- freely borrowing and adapting from other teams across the country. Some has been for our online recovery college, some for staff support and more poignantly other stuff for staff to support those nearing the end of life and those affected by it.

We are being pulled more into staff support. More often than not, this is informal and reflects an existing long term relationship: I’ve had phone calls from staff on their day off. However, we are going to be pulled into this more formally which is good: it is codifying the existing and long term informal relationship that we have with employee support.

For me, this has also been a time of disconnection and soul searching: I have lost many of the parts of the role that I love and give me life. Some will return, but I’ve a feeling that the new normal will mean that the world has forever changed and I (and chaplaincy in mental health settings will have to adapt) Now seems to be a time to do the job under these new constraints, dig deep into my own spiritual tradition, rest as far as possible, reflect and wait for the coming mental health crisis that will inevitably follow as people become tired after the first flush of intense activity, lockdown continues and then- when it is lifted- the things that have been carried can no longer be carried.

You are dust

Tracing the Rainbow: Ash Wednesday - Dust

 

I don’t often go to an Ash Wednesday service: it isn’t part of my tradition, so the first few times I went I felt out of place. The bit I struggled to cope with was where the minister leading the worship marks people’s foreheads with ash and intones the words ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return’. It felt alien- the first time I went I was in my 30s- I had an awareness that death would happen but it was so far from my ken & besides, the world and all that is in it was pretty permanent, wasn’t it?

…and then came the virus: at first a far off rumour, but closer to us- my older son was in China at the time – than others until it involved all of us. and then something that happened to other people and finally here. New words came into the lexicon: ‘social distancing’ and ‘lockdown’ (which I loathe as the word seems to have been lifted without reflection from American ‘movies’) and sometimes, a passive aggressive judging of the other as they didn’t follow ‘the rules’.

Now ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return’ seems to be more true than ever: patients I worked with have died, one friend my age was seriously ill, others who had been slowly declining have increased their decline and the world I knew has been radically altered. I do not think things will be the same again.

Suddenly ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return’ seems fresh and true to life: what we thought was permanent never was and we were misguided to believe it to be so. Of course, as soon as you realise that and do not flinch from it, the gateway opens to more positive and connected living: maybe I’ll post on that when hope arises.

 

(I started writing this post at the beginning of Lent, but I couldn’t finish it- what has happened initially robbed me of my ability to write and reflect in a coherent way).