Hospital chaplaincy is primarily concerned for the ill, including the mentally ill, the dying and incapacitated people.
Human beings can find it difficult to make sense of suffering and illness. When we experience illness, pain and despair, we come face to face with a mystery we do not fully understand. We, then, are challenged to re-assess our priorities in life.
From a Christian perspective the experiences of illness and despair can be opportunities for personal growth, and a time of being drawn even more deeply into union with God. Illness and despair can put us in touch with our own frailty, and challenge us to draw strength from the spiritual and pastoral resources within and around us. This is where the role of the chaplain comes into the picture.
Chaplains include four major areas of Pastoral Care in their ministry. They are:
Guiding means giving advice and helping people explore the questions they ask. When people are ill they often ask questions about the meaning of many things in their lives. Sometimes there are often difficult decisions to make about their health or about their future. Sometimes there are faith questions about death, forgiveness etc.
People often need someone to sustain them, to support them; a person who will listen to them.
A person may need reconciliation with themselves, with God, or with family. Again, listening, guiding and praying with people can help the processes of reconciliation to begin.
The chaplain can set up an emotional climate of peace so the body can do its own healing work more effectively. A chaplain may help people open up possibilities in their lives so they can receive strength from God, and from other people.
In both hospital and prison chaplaincy the chaplain is a representative of the Church, offers pastoral support, and presents the care of Jesus to those to whom they minister. In pastoral care the Church has always provided religious support such as: scripture; sacraments; formal or spontaneous prayer; and religious symbols.
These sacramental and religious resources go hand in hand with a pastoral approach with the person who is ill or who is in despair.