This week's news and notices from congregations, the SA Synod and the wider Uniting Church.
New RAH chapel causes consternation
By Catherine Hoffman
New Times Editor
Posted in News
Usually the announcement that a chapel will be included in a public building is one that causes members of the Uniting Church SA to rejoice. However, Health Minister Jack Snelling’s recent announcement that a chapel would be included in the new Royal Adelaide Hospital caused consternation for many Christian chaplains close to the project and reversed months of careful consultation.
The establishment of the new RAH site provided chaplains with an opportunity to purposefully consider what kind of religious space would best serve those in need at the hospital. An ecumenical team, in consultation with people from other faith traditions, designed an inclusive sacred space to fit with the ethos of contemporary chaplaincy. The plans also include a separate prayer room, which will feature facilities for washing to align with the practices of some faith traditions. These rooms form part of a new Spiritual Care Centre to be located at the heart of the new RAH building. Amongst those working on this space was Rev Judy Knowling, a Uniting Church chaplain and deacon who provides services to the RAH through Chaplaincy Services SA.
Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi was one of the first to respond to the lack of the word ‘chapel’ in the designs for the new hospital. He expressed his outrage in interviews with the Australian and FIVEaa, labelling the prayer room a “mini mosque” and criticising the removal of the term ‘chapel’, “which has Christian connotations, and which has always been in hospitals”.
In the wake of these comments, Minister Snelling told the Australian:
“There’s a chapel at the new RAH. It’ll be called a chapel, as my office indicated to you yesterday. The hospital isn’t finished yet and not all signs are up but they will be when the hospital opens.”
He said that this name is not a result of Senator Bernardi’s complaints.
Members of Chaplaincy Services SA and the Uniting Church SA who have been working on the inclusive sacred space at the new RAH site were disappointed by this announcement.
Speaking to the Australian and New Times about the announcement, Uniting Church SA Moderator Rev Sue Ellis has expressed her belief that Senator Bernardi was unaware of the work that chaplains had put into carefully designing the new space according the practices of a contemporary hospital.
“I’m disappointed that the work of faithful chaplains has become politicised when people who are in the RAH need loving support,’’ she says.
“Our chaplains are guests in the space held by patients at any hospital. They believe the best way to minister the Gospel of hope and healing in the social hospital context is by focussing on the patient and their needs. They follow the example of Jesus, who noticed the need of the vulnerable and asked about them, before he offered healing.”
According to Sue, who has worked in hospital chaplaincy, the majority of pastoral care takes place by the bedside or in the halls of the hospital. In her experience, the chapel space is most often used by staff and visitors, rather than patients.
“The Christian church has a long history of supporting and establishing hospitals. They provide a space for us to show God’s mercy, grace and kindness to all people in need, including people from other – or no – spiritual traditions. In focussing on what helps give life and hope to the one in need, the church has always respected the rituals of other faiths,” Sue explains.
“The prayer space with washing facilities provided in the new RAH serves an essential purpose for people of Muslim faith. If practicing our faith required such elements they would be also be provided. This is because the focus is on the need of the patient, not on the institutional religion.”
Hospital chaplaincy is an important part of the Uniting Church’s work – something that was emphasised in a recent New Times article by Rev Leanne Jenski.
In the article, Leanne spoke about being a “God-person” for people who don’t have faith or a faith community. “It is a privilege to walk alongside people and offer a listening ear, especially if the patient is journeying towards dying,” she wrote.
Sue recalls Leanne’s statement and shares her own belief that prioritising the needs of the patient should be of utmost importance – something which she believes may help others be brought to faith.
“I heard a story of a hospital chaplain who journeyed alongside a person of no faith. This chaplain was instrumental in leading the person to Christ and finding them a local congregation in which to nurture their faith,” she shares. “That former patient is now a leader and lay preacher in the Uniting Church.”
Sue expects experiences like this to happen through chaplaincy at the RAH with continued priority given to the needs of each patient.
“The new RAH space was created by an ecumenical group of chaplains who have witnessed and heard what patients need. I encourage Uniting Church people to investigate how the Gospel is shared in chaplaincy and to have confidence in the vision of Chaplaincy Services SA personnel, of the sacred space and prayer room in the new RAH,” she says.
“Current debates that politicise a place of healing on religious grounds demonstrate a lack of understanding of how chaplains do their work, in bringing the love and grace of God that offers peace and hope in times of great pain and stress.”
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