The Chaplaincy service is about People, serving all those whose lives in any way touch the healing concerns of our hospitals. It offers help, not only to the community of people who aren’t well, and to their families and friends, but also to all those who care directly for them through an ever-expanding range of knowledge and skill and to all the many (often unseen) people who keep such a complex organisation as a hospital working well and safely.

Meet the present Chaplaincy Team based at the Wellington Hospital and at Ratonga Rua-o-Porirua/Kenepuru.

Wellington Hospital Chaplains: Ratonga Rua-O-Porirua/Kenepuru Chaplains:
 Fr Dennis Nacorda pager 2874

Michelle Lafferty pager 2075

Don Rangi pager 2214

Sr Sia Otahiva pager 2432

Ross Scott  pager 2201

Rev Jinny Kean  pager 2180

Revd Kath Maclean

Revd Noel Tiano


In a busy hospital having space to collect one’s thoughts and tend to one’s spiritual needs is important for good health. Over the past few weeks I have had reason to reflect on this.

In the course of my rounds I met a man who opened the conversation with telling me how important the chapel had been to him. When unable to sleep through the stress of his health he had found the chapel. For him the atmosphere in the chapel was in stark contrast to the busy assessment ward he was in. In the chapel he was able to slow down and gain a perspective on what was happening. After talking for a while be looked me in the eye and said ‘don’t get me wrong I’m not religious. but chapel created the space for me to calm down’.

Between the Chapel and the chaplains’ office is the Prayer Room. A place for people who want a space that is not Christian to pray. An earlier generation of chaplains fought to have this room created when the new hospital was built and then to get carpet on the floor so it can be used for prayer. This room is in constant use as patients and staff come to prayer. Having a space to pray five times a day meets the spiritual needs for many, enhancing the service the staff can provide and the healing journey of patients and their families.

Likewise the chapel is used for regular worship. A staff prayer meeting on Saturday mornings; a Roman Catholic group on weekday afternoons and Mass on Sunday and Tuesday. Father Patrick reports that staff families are coming in so that the family can take Mass together. Each of these gatherings is an important expression of faith and serves to build community and support for those working and using the hospital.

My final reflection was of meeting a man who by his tattoos has had gang associations at some stage of his life. He was now receiving palliative care. He called for me to come over to him and asked if I could get him a King James Bible with large print. The Bible Society supplies us with Good News Bibles and I offered one of them, but I could tell he really wanted a King James. Commenting to one of our volunteers, a Salvation Army Officer, she said that she has some as an elderly women gives her a King James each month to give to those who need one. The next day I had a large print King James Bible to give to this man. He thanked me with tears running down over the tattoo of a skull on his cheek. Moved by his response I ask Why the King James? He replied “its for the language, the language is so beautiful.” I bid him farewell with a prayer as he went to the hospice.

Spirituality is an important part of health, the health of the person, the institution, and the community. As a chaplain I give thanks to CCDHB for the Chapel and Prayer Room, and the Bible Society for the supply of Bibles. Their value can be measured in money, for when ones Spiritual needs are being met we do better in hospital.

Chaplain Ross Scott

(Published in the June 2014 newsletter.)


The Revd Kath MacLean, full-time chaplain at the Mental Health Unit reports:

1 August (Wednesday)

Porirua’s Head of Security sent Kath (returning from a clergy conference in the Wairarapa) an urgent message to the effect that both she and the part-time assistant chaplain must move out from the chapel without delay as soon as she arrived back.

Later – in his office, he spelt out that everything in the chapel (and associated small complex of office, meeting room, kitchen and toilet block) was considered such a risk it must be evacuated immediately. It was difficult for everyone, no storage provision had been made for equipment and furniture, but he offered to help load up the car.

Even later – the Manager of Mental Health confirmed that the instruction had come from the Chief Operating Officer in Wellington Hospital, the result of an engineer’s assessment of the state of the building. She was able to offer temporary storage, but even more importantly, offered the Vaka Pacifica facility for the Sunday Service.

2 August (Thursday)

An all-day previous commitment prevented anything happening.

3 August (Friday)

Kath and Noel packed up their offices and, with the help of orderlies, moved as much as they could, leaving late that afternoon and setting the alarm.

Meanwhile, rumors about what was happing to the chapel rushed through the immediate community; not surprisingly, it was broken into.

Some days later

Because the chapel had been relocated onto this site relatively recently, and because the major part of the structure was wooden, an independent engineer’s report was called for (probably to cost about $1,800).

The chaplains continued their normal duties as best they could, responding to calls and comforting disturbed people.

19 August (Sunday)

After the chapel service, the volunteer pianist who had heard about the situation, took the problem to her parish church, where the cost dilemma was discussed.

22 August (Wednesday)

The parish presented Kath with a cheque for $1,800.

Watch this space!

Wellington Hospital is a busy place. It’s 474 beds do not, perhaps, seem that many (although you have to add the 110 at Kenepuru and the 175 mental health beds at Porirua when looking at the whole District Health Board). But the figures start to get impressive when you realize that in the 2011/2012 year these hospitals managed 47,723 admissions and day cases. And there were 605,000 outpatient and community-based visits over the same time. Although this second figure relates to the greater Wellington area, many of the inpatient visits were from the top half of the South Island and the lower half of the North Island (Taranaki across to Taihape and to the Hawke’s Bay).

Beds don’t get cold! And while the turnover is rapid, some patients stay for a surprisingly long time. Just keeping up with this rapidly-changing population is difficult, so our team of two full-time and two part-time chaplains is very grateful to have the assistance of sixteen chaplaincy assistants. These people have all been through a careful selection process and a thorough training course. They receive monthly group supervision from one of the chaplains and have to sign a contract with the Inter-church Council on Hospital Chaplaincy. While it is the chaplains who are on-call and attend to some of the more difficult situations, we couldn’t manage without our competent, experienced and committed chaplaincy assistants.

Being a Volunteer Hospital Chaplain’s Assistant

By a member of the volunteer team

I was approached by my pastor, asking if I was interested in training to become a volunteer hospital visitor, working in the chaplaincy team. I had no idea such a position existed and was intrigued that the professional chaplains needed support from volunteers. As I thought about this, my heart was challenged; I used to be a nurse and I feel comfortable in the hospital environment.

I was interviewed and expressed my apprehension at the idea of meeting many strangers. I was warmly accepted into the course to begin basic training. I have now been a volunteer chaplains’ assistant for about five years and over that time it has come to take a much more prominent place in my life. I have completed further training to enhance my work. Initially, I visited a busy surgical ward once a week. This was a time of great trepidation, yet I gained so much through meeting brave and open people. I realized it was the highlight of my week. So I resigned my regular employment to be able to do more visiting. I now schedule my work around my visiting.

Currently, I visit the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the antenatal ward and the gynecology ward three times weekly. No one day is ever the same. On many occasions, I am a friendly face, a visitor without an agenda. I see some people only once. I visit others over many months as their baby grows and develops in the NICU. Some women are transferred from all around the region and have no regular contact with whanau and friends. For them I am often what we refer to as “a boredom buster”! Yet in all interactions, I acknowledge that spiritual and emotional healing are important alongside physical healing.

Some people ask for prayer. On many occasions, I refer to the chaplains to visit further and for rituals such as Baptism and bringing the Eucharist. I try to be sensitive to each person’s needs and wishes. I never wish to impose. Yet I always introduce myself as a chaplains’ assistant, so people know my role.

Recently I visited a lady from out of town who was on bed rest for several weeks. We chatted about many issues including her fears that her pregnancy was not progressing well. We came to relish the regular chats. I was able to do errands for her as well as stave off some loneliness. When her baby died soon after birth we cried together as I tried to support her and her husband. She wanted to show me her beautiful child and share in her grief. It was a privilege to do so – but hard.

All the assistants have regular supervision from one of the chaplains in the team. This gives an opportunity to share our concerns, our frailties, our joys and our dilemmas.

Some patients’ needs are physical – toys for visiting children, a magazine, another pillow, a fresh cup of tea. Others need to be heard as they struggle with having surgery postponed, or hearing challenging news. Very occasionally they may want help from an independent person to make a complaint.

I offer support to relatives of those in hospital. I visited a lady whose elderly mother was hospitalised for several weeks. Far from her home and family, the daughter stayed in a nearby hostel and spent hours at her mother’s bedside. Both asked for prayer; sometimes it was the daughter who needed more support as she watched her mother undergo many treatments.

At times I am asked to support staff as well and I do that readily.

It is challenging and rewarding work. I am blessed to be able to visit and feel privileged to hear many stories of courage; I am blessed and encouraged through this ministry as my eyes and heart are opened to the sufferings and delights

It is the normal practice of a hospital to bless a room (or an operating theatre) after a death. Usually the chaplains do this, though at night it is often done by a member of staff using holy water and prayers provided by the chaplains.

At a room blessing the person who has died will be commended to God and the room blessed with the sign of the cross and holy water, with the prayer that it will be cleansed of all that is destructive to the human spirit and be a place of love, peace and healing to all who use it (patients, relatives and staff).

Modern hospitals are places of huge technical sophistication. But all this technical expertise is intended to be a servant of the human qualities of compassion, care and respect for the human pilgrim in this life and beyond it.

To be in the place of death is to stand in a mysterious place. The hopes and disappointments, the achievements and failures, the dreams and despair of this human life have entered a new state of being. A human person, conceived and borne through childhood in love (mostly, thank God) formed, challenged and shaped through all the changes and chances of a unique life, has gone to God.

Does the human heart allow us just to wrap up the body, take it away and simply get on with the next task which falls to hand? Of course not.

In the Maori understanding death is tapu. It takes us into an experience which is above and beyond the ordinary. This room, which has become tapu, a holy place, needs to be returned to its ordinary, normal use, from tapu to noa, by a deliberate act which acknowledges the significance of what has taken place. Maori custom expresses a universal psychological truth.

Christians have always blessed places, too. With the sign of the cross and the sprinkling with holy water Christ’s victory over death, and the eternal cleansing and new birth of baptism, are proclaimed. When, at a time of death, we pray “Our Father in heaven” we also mean “Our Father in this room”, acknowledging the One who has stood and received his child into his fatherly embrace in this place. In the blessing of a room after a death we acknowledge God’s presence and action as well as our own sense of mystery and awe in the face of something so profound and so full of “otherness”, at once so fearful and so hopeful.

6.30am  A tui and the Sun’s rays together announce Monday morning.

The pager goes off….

“We have an elderly woman dying. Her daughter cannot get in as her father needs to be taken to hospital. She has asked if a chaplain can be with her Mum”.

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. What ward and who is the patient?’

“7 North and Mrs B, bed A1”

“Good. See you then.”

When I arrive I can see that she is very low. I hold her hand and introduce myself but she gives no response. I pray for her and ten minutes later she dies. I assist the nurse with laying her out, then I pray again with the nurse present. We talk briefly about Mrs B before she leaves for her day’s duties. I leave a card and a note for the family offering to come back when they get to the hospital. After breakfast and some quiet time in the chapel I checked e-mails. My list of patients to be visited included a 70 year old who’d had a stroke. He had been found on the floor by his wife when she returned from a night at the theatre with a friend.

He was still unconscious; while he was being washed I was able to spend time with his wife, giving her an opportunity to tell the story and to express what it meant to her not to have been with him at the time of the stroke.

Later in the morning I was able to cheer a patient who was in her twelfth day in hospital and eagerly waiting permission to go home. I was then able to see eight other patients.

During lunch I was called to bless the room where Mrs B had died. Since her family had not been able to come in, she had been taken directly to the funeral home; the nurse who had cared for her was with me while I blessed the room.

After lunch I went to Wakefield Hospital where the charge nurse on Ward 3 discussed the patients who needed a visit. One of these appreciated a bit of outside company; the other was reflecting on the second chance of life that his surgery offered him. He resolved to spend more time with his family in the future.

On the second floor, two men were recovering from cardiac surgery. One of them needed to tell how close to a heart attack he had come. Everything had happened very fast and he was still coming to terms with it all. Telling his story was part of making it real. He appreciated a prayer and wept as we gave thanks for his recovery.

Back in Wellington Hospital I responded to a call to see a lonely elderly man. He had been in hospital for 9 days; his family all live overseas and visits from chaplaincy volunteers were very important. As we talked together he concluded that material things were not as important as friends and family. I said a prayer with him and left him alone again, pondering on his comments as I biked quietly home.

From Rev David Tannock, Chaplain, Wellington Hospital

The chaplaincy team at Wellington Hospital includes two full-time chaplains, two half-time chaplains, and a team of 16 voluntary assistants. The team covers most of the commonest Christian churches, but there are a large number of smaller faith communities in Wellington not represented on the team. So we have a list of on-call people from all the faith communities we have been able to identify, Christian and non-Christian.

The experience of being a hospital patient impacts on people’s spirituality regardless of creed. When patients come into hospital, they come in as complete human beings and it is their whole being which is involved. We are not tractors which can come into the mechanic’s garage, have some new parts put in and a bit of attention to the old ones, then go out again.

A large proportion of patients, as in western society generally, have no religious practices or beliefs. But these people often have a strong spirituality, and in hospital they can be confronted by huge needs. They may be a young couple facing the withdrawal of life support from a new-born baby, a mother who has a family to care for, or an older person knowing they face the imminence of death.

The most important thing a chaplain can do is listen. A lot of our time is spent just going around from patient to patient, talking about all manner of things. In this way, we establish contact with people and learn about them. Patients are also making decisions about whether the chaplain can be trusted. People will never entrust themselves at any deep level to someone unknown and untested. There are many people with whom we chaplains become involved on a surface level. Then the relationship develops and the patient talks about the deeper things going on. This pattern happens time and again.

Times of letting go are very important. The traditional prayers at the time of death have evolved over a long period of time and reflect the universality of the experience of death. They are also flexible enough to express the particularities of this unique death. In the face of death, it is the ritual of prayers and other actions which help both patient and family to move forward and find healing. Often these rituals are traditional things, like baptism, anointing, and communion. I recall a case in which the really important ritual the family needed to have at the particular time of loss was a marriage. People who do not have a traditional faith also want important moments to be marked with dignity – the withdrawal of life-support from a patient is not just a technological process. Marking the moment with dignity usually requires a prayer and often requires a ritual.

Having a chaplain present in the hospital knowing the system and on-site to get to know the patients as well as possible in what is often a very short time, is essential to making important rituals like these happen at the right times. These are a fundamental part of the healing process.

One day one of our voluntary assistants, who worked in the orthopedic ward, was making her rounds when she came across a patient who was very hungry and desperately wanted some fish and chips. He was so insistent that she went off and bought some. As she was carrying them back she wondered if she should really be doing this, but contented herself with the thought that she “was bringing Jesus his fish and chips”. This expresses the basic spirituality of chaplaincy work – in visiting patients or staff we are visiting Jesus; each person is can incarnation of the divine. So every time we visit someone we are standing on holy ground. It is our task to be there and to accompany each person on his or her journey.

Occasionally people ask us if we have saved anyone, or been involved in any miracles. For me, that is not what we are about. Instead, we seek to understand God’s agenda and discover the peace which comes from following it.

Everything the hospital chaplain does is done within the full glare of an incredibly accomplished and very able group of health professionals. There are no secrets in a hospital and the chaplain has none of the props which the parish clergy can call upon. Pastoral and spiritual care is given in a context in which they have to take their place as one discipline among others, contributing to healing the whole person.

When pastoral and spiritual care show they can contribute then hospital chaplaincy becomes an effective and important part of the Church’s overall mission. It helps the Church itself to learn and demonstrate the difficult art of existing and contributing constructively to and within a secular environment. It is emphatically part of the Church’s mission in the world.