Trish Patrick is a member of our Mornington Church. She is also a Workplace Chaplain, engaging with worker on a number of sites in and around Dunedin. She recently spoke to an Open Education programme at Mornington, and here are her thoughts about her work in chaplaincy, and its value. Thanks Trish
Thank you Colin for your welcome, and introduction, particularly your comment about 'working at the cutting edge where faith meets with work'. When I mentioned this talk to my brother in law, with a wry little grin he said “ I would have thought it might have been more like the 'fraying edge' and you as chaplain, the 'spiritual over-locker'.” I thought about this(a very Patrick comment),& realised there was a lot of truth in his metaphor. More about this later.
What is it like representing Christ in the work place?
Many thoughts come to mind, some of them including words like; challenging, frustrating, lonely, satisfying, sad, paradoxical, celebratory, humorous, , scary, overwhelming, tiring and rewarding.
It is a role with its own particularity and demands, but also its own special satisfactions. How did I get to be a work place chaplain? I was asked by the director of the mission to consider applying. Having thought about it and after doing some research about this ministry, I decided I liked what I had learned. This was a mission founded on the premise that God's justice was for all,God's grace was for all, no evangelical agenda, an incarnational theology, under-girded by God's love and compassion - free to all .My role as chaplain was to be alongside, offering pastoral care to all in the workplace, from the CEO of the client organisation to the tea lady. No preaching no teaching . 'Simply to be' alongside.
I could live with that. So after jumping through all the necessary hoops,
I became a workplace chaplain.
As many of you will be aware,and probably experienced, the workplace is fraught with change and the uncertainty that goes with change.
People are required to work longer hours for less pay,and their conditions of employment quietly being eroded. This change is euphemistically called downsizing, restructuring, out-sourcing, centralising, causing frayed nerves, frayed relationships ,and the unravelling of peoples lives.
My role in this situation is to help minimise the fraying edges of these lives, by being alongside, offering quiet counsel and a safe place for them to express their anger, frustration and grief, at the loss of their livelihood.
Paradoxically, it is also my role to provide pastoral care to the authors of these situations. Remember, we are there to care for everyone in the workplace. This includes the boss or CEO . It also means suppressing my personal feelings about the situation so I can be who I need to be for these people who carry the responsibility of making hard decisions, in order that profits can be maximised and share holders kept happy. I must confess there are times when it takes a lot of energy to find the grace and compassion I must demonstrate so I can be who I need to be for them. Sadly people take second place to profits. It is a fine line I walk to maintain the neutrality this role demands of me.
Another large part of my work involves supporting people whose relationships
are unraveling. All to often the unraveling proves to be unstoppable and the
frayed edges of family life sadly become torn irreparably, no amount of over-locking
is going to help here! When this happens,all I can do is hold the person as
s/he picks up the frayed remnants of shredded dreams. In this context, 'holding'
a person means supporting, encouraging and being an agent of hope as the person
working out of this situation is going to mean.
Sometimes I come alongside a parent agonising over their wayward child.This is a situation I as a parent can relate to. What has happened to the delightful biddable child who once believed that Mum and Dad knew everything and could fix anything. Suddenly here is a stroppy stranger giving them the run around at every turn. Into drugs, into alcohol, possibly living on the fringes of the criminal world. The bewildered parents at a loss, not understanding why their child has chosen this path. Again my role is to listen, to support, to encourage, be a resource person, and be an agent of hope.
Grief and loss are other areas which form a large chunk of my work. There is a lot of unresolved grief and pain in the world which tends to go unacknowledged and consequently un-dealt with. My task is to gently help a person recognise this grief. There are no shortcuts through the grief process. It takes time to journey through those dark valleys and eventually emerge in a better space where some normalcy can begin to reshape their lives. Grief and loss can take people unawares, because it isn't only death which can plunge us into that dark place. Loss of relationship, loss of identity through loss of job, loss of security, loss of certainty, loss of mobility, the list goes on. It is not my place to hurry people through this experience. They must be allowed the dignity, the time and the space to be fully present to the pain of their grief and loss.
The pain and anguish of a gay person faced with the prospect of “Coming
out' to parents, family, friends,and in some cases church people, compounded
by the anticipated pain of rejection, is almost too hard to bear. They fear
their sexual orientation will be deemed more important than the person they
really are . There is nothing more likely to fray the fabric of someones spirit
than being judged, rejected and abandoned, because of sexual orientation.
Many of the people I have dealt with in this situation have commented they
wish they were not gay, the judgements, the bullying and the alienation has
them questioning their right or indeed their desire to live. My task is to
support the person as he or she seeks to find a safe place to stand, a place
which offers refuge and acceptance and the knowledge that they are an ok person,
not only along side their family,friends and work colleagues, but also in
the sight of God.
On reflection, I find it interesting to note that without exception the gay people I have encountered, and there has been quite a number over the years, have had a faith connection of some sort.
Loneliness can be a feature of my role for several reasons, firstly I do chaplaincy out of who I am. I don't have any props, nor do I have the support of elders or deacons, or the structure and authority of a church. When I go into a work place, I go alone. This can be daunting because I must find a way of relating to the entire workforce in that organisation.It might be as many as hundreds of people, or as few as 2. No matter how many people there might be, its scary. Because our service is one of choice, staff can choose to use the service or not. Initially this means I might be ignored my some, viewed with suspicion by others, or accepted by a few, but sussed out by all! I am watched and possibly at times judged. However uncomfortable this may be, I must unobtrusively persevere (loiter with intent), quietly engaging with people in an appropriate way, remembering that each seemingly insignificant encounter means that one more thread is secured the fabric of that work place and in the life of that person. This process may take a very long time.
A second reason is that I connect with my colleagues monthly for 1.5hrs. Three times we attend training days and we all attend a 3 day annual retreat. Not a lot of contact in the greater scheme of things. This is because we are so geographically spread out round the southern region.Time and economics dictate this infrequent collegial contact.
Thirdly, I become the repository of much information which I must hold to myself. Although I have mastered the skill of managing this, it does mean that I know a lot of stuff about a lot of people which under ordinary circumstances I would rather not know. Some of this information is commercially sensitive, most of it client issues both personal and professional. Fortunately it is mandatory that we attend supervision regularly and this provides a safe place to talk about any issues arising from encounters in our client organisations. But it is still a load no matter how lightly we may hold it.
In conclusion, I want to reassure you that this job does have its lighter side. In fact it is essential that one has a sense of the ridiculous and a lively sense of humour. Not the least because you will find that you have been given nicknames.
Mine have included, the “flying nun”, the “god lady”, the “vicar of Delta”,the “petite padre”. Lots of funny things do happen, but sadly i am unable to share them with you.
Its a privilege being entrusted with peoples joys and sorrows, and not to be taken for granted. Being Christ's representative is also a privilege and a responsibility whichkeeps me grounded and constantly reflecting on my practice.
But perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that the workplace is God's place. I dont take God in with me – He's already there. My job is to find out what He is doing and co-operate with him. In so doing, ' keep alive the rumour of God '.