I've been neglecting my poor wee blog recently. Partly this is due to transferring my addictive personality's attention to Facebook and Twitter, and partly it's been because my poor brain seems to be too tired to do much thinking these days. At least I've been thinking a lot, but I've not been able to marshal my thoughts into posts here.
I've had an interesting couple of days though. Yesterday (though it seems longer ago) I was doing a bit of refresher bereavement training. It was really good to take some time out to think of these issues and reflect on the privilege that we as chaplains have in being with people in their sorrow. One (male) chaplain was reflecting to me afterwards that the hardest thing for him is to sit with someone and to feel unable to come up with anything useful in terms of answers or advice. I (only half jokingly) asked him if he'd read that "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" book - which he had, as it turned out. The point that is made in that book is that men like to fix things, but according to the book women get frustrated with that because when they want to have a good old moan, they want to have a good old moan. End of. They're not looking for a solution. When Him Indoors starts solutionising in response to my moaning I call him Mr Fix It and tell him to stop it! To be fair to him and other men who fit the generalisation, I'm sure he can't see the point of moaning if you're not looking for advice or a solution so I must drive him mad. I'm eternally grateful that he puts up with me. He's a good soul really.
In the terrible reality of bereavement and grief, what the person really wants, the ONLY thing they really want, the ONE thing that would make it better, is the ONE thing you have no power to grant and that is to have the person back. Any other words or advice is likely to be irksome rather than helpful. But what's needed is someone to listen.
Carl Rodgers said that three core conditions are required by the bereaved for pastoral support to work. One is empathy, one is congruence (genuineness, sincerity) and "unconditional positive regard". Isn't that a nice phrase? Unconditional positive regard. Love, I prefer to call it.
Since then I've been spending a lot of time with fellow chaplains from other jails discussing what we do, for purposes I can't go into without having to kill you all. Hush hush. Official secrets act, civil serpents, etc.. Anyway, one of the key things that it is our huge honour to do as prison chaplains, it seems to me, is to meet prisoners with "unconditional positve regard". LOVE. The offences of the offenders may be extremely offensive. Their attitudes may be offensive. Their very appearance may be offensive! (Not that I'm any oil painting myself). But, as an act of the will, we love them. This is not a core duty of any other category of staff but is our privilege and our challenge. With God's help it's really easy actually but don't spread it around or they'll pay us less.
At the meeting this moring was a "high heid yin" who's not a chaplain. It was good to have someone who could see us as others see us. He said that he thought that the distinctive thing that we have to offer is HOPE.
The other thing which we offer is the "ordinances of religion". And the Gospel. We are the God Squad in the prison. We bring the message of Jesus to anyone who is open to hearing it. We facilitate the believing prisoners' worship opportunties. We encourage them im their spiritual growth and understanding. FAITH.
What are we about as chaplains?
Faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.