Sermon: The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 13th July 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Gen 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-23

A CHAPLAIN’S STORY

It is more than eleven years since I commenced my ministry as Anglicare Chaplain at Concord Hospital. In the previous 22 years I had served as Rector in Botany-Mascot and Woollahra, and as Precentor at St.Andrew’s Cathedral. As I reached my mid-50’s, I felt that it was not right to stay at Woollahra until I reached retirement age, and wondered whether God was calling me to a different kind of ministry.

In due course, I received what I believe was God’s answer to that question, and was appointed by Anglicare as Chaplain at Concord Hospital. Sarah and I had purchased a house at West Ryde a few months before I was offered the position, and its ideal location within 15 minute’s drive of the hospital seemed confirmation that God was indeed leading the way. Certainly I have never felt any doubts that this is the ministry to which I have been called: something for which I am very thankful. And having now reached my 65th birthday, I feel enough energy to keep going a bit longer, rather than retiring just yet.

As I said, I was appointed by Anglicare, who receive a payment from the State Health Department for the provision of Chaplaincy services to the hospital. There are altogether 32 hospital chaplain positions in the state, held by representatives of a number of different denominations and faiths, which are funded this way. It probably won’t surprise you that the real cost of providing and supporting chaplains is a lot more than Anglicare gets from State Health, although it certainly helps.

And that is why I am delighted that July’s Mission of the Month is Anglicare Chaplaincy. I believe that my ministry at Concord Hospital is an extension and an expression of my membership not just of the Anglican community in general, but in particular of this part of the Anglican community in Epping Parish. I know that many parishioners pray for me; a number have provided financial support for the ministry; and three members have been or are currently involved in voluntary ministry with me at the hospital.

I would love to see as many parishioners as possible feeling a certain sense of ownership or connection with this ministry. I am hoping that even more parishioners will pray regularly for this ministry, and I also hope that a number of parishioners will be able to commit themselves to regular financial support of Chaplaincy ministry. The leaflets you have received will tell you more about Anglicare Chaplaincy, and also how to become a regular supporter. It would also be great to have more people from St.Alban’s or St.Aidan’s who might commit themselves to a few hours a week sharing in this special ministry at Concord.

I am one of about 30 Chaplains working with Anglicare not only in hospitals, but also in prisons, mental health centres, Chesalon Aged Care facilities, and the Juniperina Juvenile Justice Centre for girls who have got into trouble with the law. Under Anglicare I am supported not only financially, but with education, supervision, encouragement and advice, and in a number of very practical ways. My impression is that compared with many other churches, the Anglican church provides a very helpful and supportive framework to undergird the work of Chaplains, and actually to keep us up to the mark!

Many of you will have heard me talk of the work in which I am involved at Concord Hospital. My basic work is to spend time with patients and their loved ones, and support them as they go through tough times.

They may just want company or a listening ear. Many will appreciate the opportunity for prayer together. I may share the scriptures or the sacrament with them. Some will have a strong faith, and possibly a regular connection with their church.

The majority for all sorts of reasons will have little or no connection, though many of them will see themselves as believers. My task is to be with them where they are at, to give them space to express their fears and worries and frustrations, not to mention their hopes and their joys. And I seek to be an understanding and accepting listener, not forcing the Christian message on them, but ready to share God’s love in a helpful and appropriate and gracious way. I also see myself as part of the hospital team, playing my unique part in the care of patients.

There are around 500 beds in Concord Hospital, and it would be impossible for one person to spend worthwhile time with all the patients. I work with a full-time Catholic Chaplain, and also with a team of volunteers, not only Anglican but from a variety of other churches and faith traditions. We have regular visits from Presbyterian and Uniting Church representatives, and from the Buddhist and Moslem traditions. I am delighted that we have recently started regular visitations from the Greek Orthodox Church.

The volunteers not only share the responsibility of meeting and ministering to patients: they also alert me to patients who would like to see me, or whom it might be helpful for me to look in on. I try to spend time with the volunteers when they come, to encourage and support and guide them in their ministries. I wear a pager so that I can be contacted by the hospital 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. No doubt some of you have seen me phoning the hospital before, during or after services when I have been paged!

As well as the usual range of wards including Emergency and Intensive Care, Concord Hospital has a world-class Burns Unit, where patients may spend weeks or months in treatment following serious burns, or skin conditions and injuries.

This month the hospital has opened a new Palliative Care Unit, caring for people as they come to the end of their life: focussing on keeping them comfortable and giving support to them and their loved ones at what can be a very difficult time. I have been asked to spend regular time in this ward, which I am very happy to do, and I would appreciate prayer for God’s help as I seek to provide compassionate, wise and sensitive care, which will provide people with understanding and hope. This is a time-consuming ministry, and I am still working out how to fulfil this responsibility, along with the other calls on my time.

There are some unusual sides of my ministry at Concord Hospital. For many years it has been the pattern there that the Chaplains are also Justices of the Peace. Most days I spend some time certifying copies of documents or witnessing signatures of staff and others, including members of staff taking maternity leave, who require a statutory declaration to access their leave payments. I am sometimes one of the first to know that a slight change in shape is not because of too much cake, but because a staff member is pregnant!

Although my JP-ing is not always convenient, it also enables me to meet a range of people whom I might not otherwise get to know: sometimes these contacts have led to quite significant ministry.

In keeping with the hospital’s background as a Veterans’ hospital, I also prepare and lead a number of public commemorative services each year, including Anzac Day, VP Day, Remembrance Day, and commemorations of the Vietnam and Korean wars. I also get together each week with a group of veterans and War Widows who would not otherwise get out much: they come once a week to the hospital’s Veterans’ Day Centre and enjoy each other’s company and various activities. I spend an hour with them doing some community singing and talking with them. And I serve on the hospital’s Research Ethics Committee.

It is a privilege to spend time with people going through tough times, to give them the opportunity to open up to me about how they are going, and to share something of myself and of Christ’s love with them. As I said, about 30 other Chaplains serve with Anglicare in ministries to people in difficult circumstances. I hope that you may be able to make a special gift through the Mission side of the Parish offertory envelopes, or even use the Anglicare envelopes to link up as a more regular supporter of Anglicare Chaplaincy. And of course your prayer support will be greatly valued.

If you think you might be interested in finding out more about joining the team of volunteer pastoral visitors, please let me know. If you don’t catch me at church, you can ring the hospital, and ask to be put through to me.

Chaplaincy ministry provides opportunities for sowing the seed, the message of God’s love, as Jesus describes it in his parable. Some people are ready for that message: others are not ready to hear of the peace and hope that Jesus brings, and we never push it on people. As Jesus’ parable describes the different responses of people to the message, one might feel that there was such little response that it was hardly worth the effort. But Jesus makes clear that there are those who are indeed ready to open up to God’s love in a new way: sometimes we will be there when it happens – often we are just links in a chain. But whatever the attitude of those we visit, our aim is to demonstrate God’s love and understanding, not only by our words, but by our compassion and understanding which reflects God’s compassion and understanding to us all. And is that not the foundation of all our witness to the Gospel of Christ? Amen.

Paul Weaver