5 Top Tips for Aged Care Ministry Workers

Dealing with grief and loss in the context of aged care chaplaincy was a daunting concept for me from the start. I still remember how nervous I was when I was called to the bedside of a dying resident for the first time. I had only been working for a few days and was able to observe the other, more experienced chaplain at the time. I was standing in the background, quietly watching, and praying as my college ministered to the family of this resident. Initial hesitation quickly dissipated, and I felt a sense of awe and peace as I witnessed the powerful effects of a gentle and caring presence. I learnt one of the most important lessons that day:

Chaplaincy is not about having the perfect words or answers for someone. It is about being fully present, ready to listen and observe, being comfortable with silence and able to hold space for whatever is going on for the person in front of me.

I once visited a resident who I will call Layla. She sat outside in the courtyard by herself. I slowly approached her and asked if it was ok if I sat down next to her. Layla smiled and nodded. I then tried to engage her in various topics of conversation but, she gave me one-word answers or silently smiled back at me. I had no choice but to submit to sitting with her quietly, as we shared a cup of tea. After about 15 minutes, which felt more like 2 hours, I interrupted the silence by letting Layla know that I will have to move on again. She attentively looked at me, squeezed my hand firmly and with the biggest smile on her face said, “Thank you so much for spending all this time with me!”

I had a tear in my eye as I waved goodbye to her, thankful for being reminded of what the power of presence can do for someone.

People may not always remember what we say to them, but they do remember how we make them feel. It is therefore so important that we listen with an uncluttered mind, willing to acknowledge someone’s struggle or pain, without trying to solve their situation or offer solutions.

Here are my 5 top tips for working in an aged care chaplaincy or pastoral care role:

1. Be a calming presence
Slow down when you walk through your workplace, don’t be in a hurry. Be willing to be interrupted as this is often the space where powerful ministry happens. Be aware that you are God’s hands and feet in action and that you carry His peace wherever you go.

2. Observe and pay attention 
Respond respectfully to whatever situation you find yourself in. Ask for permission before entering a room as this is their home. Acknowledge expressed emotions, for example “You look sad today, do you want to tell me why?” or “I have not seen you in the common area for a while, is there a reason for this?”

3. Let God lead
If appropriate, share a Bible verse/passage or offer to pray for people. Ask staff, residents, and relatives how they are going and allow time for them to answer you. Encourage people when you observe growth and comment on acts of kindness, smile and be available to listen.

4. Listen at least twice as much as you talk
God gave you two ears and only one mouth! Listen without an agenda and without trying to think of the ‘perfect’ answer. Their need to be heard and understood is far greater than their need to hear your suggestions and solutions. Use your active listening skills, repeat what you hear, reassure, and acknowledge their pain and suffering. 

5. Be fully present
Try to focus on the person in front of you, be present in the moment. Don’t think about what’s next on your ‘to do’ list. In his book ‘The Sacrament of the Present Moment’ by John- Pierre De Caussade (1989, viii) he says, “the sacrament of the present moment, requires us to do our duty whatever it may be, a carrying out of God’s purpose for us, not only this day or this hour but this minute, this very minute”. Awareness that in God’s view there is no such thing as an insignificant moment will create in you an open and expectant posture for what God might be up to next.

Helping yourself is as important as helping others   

Are you thinking about a career in chaplaincy, have a heart for the elderly or feel like you need to reboot and realign your work, home, and spiritual life? Kingdom Leaders empowers and encourages Christian leaders, pastors, and chaplains through Christian coaching, ministry and spiritual mentoring, and pastoral supervision. Whether you need career advice, to reignite your passion for ministry, or help with work, life and spiritual balance, Kingdom Leaders can help. We will listen to your concerns, and work with you to achieve balance, peace, fulfilment, and growth in line with God’s vision for your life. Take our FREE 3-minute life balance profile assessment and receive a personalised result or contact us and for a FREE 30 minute Discovery call today.

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