The Wesleyan Methodist Church has a number of chaplains working in hospitals, mental health facilities, rest homes and within the media sector. Some are continuing to offer face-to-face services; others are working remotely. We asked Rev. Yvonne Fisk to share about her experiences in the current season – demand is on the increase and Rev Yvonne is running 5-6 services per week!
I became a Chaplain two months ago at a Christian based Rest Home and Hospital in Auckland. Since my childhood, I have had a great affinity for working with our elderly or Seniors(!) as some people prefer to call them.
On my second day, I had to support a family as their loved father slowly passed away. It is an honour to have a presence in people’s lives at a time like that. It is an opportunity to remind them of the faith their loved one had earlier in life, which many in this generation did have. It is a time when we can chat with family about normal things while they go through the unenviable task of watching and waiting for a loved one to take their last breath. It is a time when we can start the conversation of ‘what will come next?’ Not just the practicalities but also learning to adjust to life without their loved one.
An intense first week was followed by trying to learn our residents’ names. Over 30 residents in the Rest Home and 90 in the Hospital area. I used a method I learnt many years ago about making an association in my mind with their name. E.g. someone named Joyce reminded me of my Auntie Joyce. Problem of course when I discover there are three “Joyces”!
It only took three weeks to learn the Rest Home people but I am still struggling with our Hospital residents. It’s hard to learn about someone so you can make an association in your mind when they cannot talk with you. These wonderful old ladies (as the men seem to go before this stage) have a sense of calm and peace you cannot find elsewhere. They cannot talk anymore, yet when we sing old hymns or say the Lord’s Prayer you can see their lips moving and they are remembering. Before Corona Virus I could hold their hand and pray a blessing for each one but now I can just smile from a metre away. It is so hard not being allowed to touch their hand. A flicker in their eyes and sometimes a sly smile lets you know there is still someone inside. They are in permanent lockdown, locked into a body that doesn’t do what they want it to do.
As an essential worker, I realise the privilege I have of being able to get out of the house and go to work. Though I have lots of things at home I could be doing, I am still needed at work to uplift and uphold the spiritual and mental well being of our residents and staff. Our volunteers who help with Church services are not allowed in so with assistance from an Activities officer we did five small services last week. Could be six this coming week as the last one we exceeded suggested numbers of ten at a time.
Attendance has gone up by ten% over both areas. I gave the same message, I used YouTube Videos for singing and we prayed. The services were mostly the same but the people were different each time. Some I had not met before so more names to try and remember.
I spoke on Joshua 1:6-9 Be Strong and Courageous, and Proverbs 3:5-8. Verse eight is my favourite. A simple message to bring them hope, to ease their worry in these troubling times. I challenged those who would like, to become Prayer Warriors for our nation. To be asked to pray for the people who look after them, to seek protection for their own families and the family of the staff gave them a purpose and a reason for each day. I saw a physical uplifting of their heads and shoulders as they listened and I could almost feel the assent in the room of that is what they will do.
We call Loneliness, Helplessness and Having nothing to do the Three Plagues of Rest Homecare. Part of my job as Chaplain is to assist in avoiding any aspect of those negative feelings. Calling them Prayer Warriors gave them a purpose. It gave them a task they could achieve. It gave them a reason for each day.
At the moment New Zealand is in crisis mode but as time goes on and we get to move freely about, these people will still be in ‘lockdown’. Never underestimate their ability to understand what you say or how you act. The hearing is the last sense to go. When Rest Homes and Hospitals open up I encourage all Ministers, all Ministry Students, and all people who call themselves followers of Christ, to go and spend time with our elders. They are treasures, they are our taonga.
For some their faith is visible in their demeanour, their spirit glows from their soul through their faces. They have been faithful to Christ for some 90 plus years and you can physically see it. They have walked the path and found the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It emanates from them. Come and you will be Blessed in a way you have never been before. Ministry WITH our elders is a time where the Lord will show you spirituality in a way not seen anywhere else.
Rev Yvonne Fisk