I had some really good news that I wasn’t able to share with you until I received my acceptance letter in the post today. I’m in the latest intake of a pastoral care course I applied for last year through the Queensland Institute of Clinical Pastoral Education. My interview was about ten days ago, and it went so well that I was offered a place on the spot, so I was quite chuffed to read the letter today. I’m going to be based at one of the city’s largest trauma hospitals.
I don’t ‘belong’ or subscribe to any religion, though if pressed, I would have to say that I’m agnostic. I have my faith and my own spiritual beliefs, but this course is so far removed from being about me – the care industry rarely is. It’s really about how I can best serve people who are ill, suffering and dying, and how this course will, no doubt, extend my charter of compassion. I suppose that it’s a little about me and my experience, but I’m there to listen.
I wrote in my application that it’s never been my intention to be a counsellor, but to ‘be a person who can listen and offer emotional and spiritual support to people who may be in distress due to illness, disability or other trauma’. I once looked at studying social work, and look at it hard I did. After weighing up the pros and cons, the cons became insurmountable – the main offender being burnout.
I see pastoral care as a gentle vocation, and it’s more of a team-oriented approach with other medical professionals that I hope to one day be working closely with. Suffice to say, pastoral carers are quite low on the allied health rung in hospitals, but as I heard last year at the Spiritual Care Australia conference, the landscape of care is changing, and pastoral and spiritual carers aren’t being shunned as they once were. I heard firsthand how nurses are actively calling upon us for their patients who are in an existential or spiritual crisis, which is heartening to say the least.
It’s going to be tough, harrowing and rewarding work. I’ve been a volunteer with various charities and organisations since I was a young girl – namely Cystic Fibrosis and Queenslanders Donate, which is now DonateLife – and while I don’t see my work in pastoral care as volunteer based, the volunteering and other care work I’ve done with the sick and the dying will prove to be an invaluable foundation. Now, I’m no Mother Teresa, but I have high morals, a strong ethical constitution and tremendous expectations of myself. My belief system is one of kindness, respect, equality and compassion, and my experience with illness and death will no doubt temper the potential stress I may encounter with the training I’m about to begin.
I’m expecting to be challenged, humbled and probably brought to my knees as I learn about what it truly takes to be a great spiritual carer. Again – I’m not in the business of ‘fixing’ or rescuing people. All I want to do is comfort people when they are most in need of spiritual support; to help them navigate whatever emotionally perilous journey they may be on. Let the learning and listening begin …