‘Remaining present and engaged in a fragile world’

Recipient of The Bill Snelson Young Ecumenists Fund, Sarah Crane, reflects on her time in the Czech Republic at a European healthcare chaplaincy conference.

I was funded by The Bill Snelson Young Ecumenists Fund to attend the 18th Consultation of the European Network for Healthcare Chaplaincy. In my ‘day job’, I’m the Head of Chaplaincy at Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and a Baptist Minister.

The consultation was held in Prague in April and 80 delegates gathered to share in seminars and keynote sessions to gain greater insight into the diversity of healthcare chaplaincy across the continent. The Network is made up of member delegations from across Europe and a wide range of Christian and other faith and belief traditions. This consultation was titled, Being a healthcare chaplain: remaining present and engaged in a fragile world.

We heard from local academics about the interplay between healthcare chaplaincy in an increasingly secular Czech Republic. Lindsay de Wal, from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, spoke on the value of diversity in healthcare chaplaincy, sharing from her experience as a non-religious person becoming a healthcare chaplain in the UK. Anne Vanderhoeck shared about the work of the European Research Institute for Healthcare Chaplaincy (ERICH), based in Belgium, and Csaba Szilagyi spoke about the need for a chaplain to understand their personal, pastoral and professional identity in order to most effectively be integrated into wider healthcare teams.

I was also able to deliver a seminar about my own experience of starting a staff listening service within my Trust and was part of a group sharing the impact of a trial of Clinical Pastoral Education (a type of professional training for healthcare chaplains) in England.

As part of our time in Prague, we had the opportunity to visit a local hospital. Our tour was with Martin, who is both a priest and a palliative care doctor and spoke fascinatingly about how he combined the two vocations. Those of us who visited his hospital were particularly smug about this decision as we were the only of the five groups to be given an enormous spread of excellent Czech cakes and sandwiches!

Cakes and sandwiches on a table
Dr Martin’s cakes and sandwiches
chocolate cake and grapes on a plate
Chocolate cake – worth a close up!
Interior of Prague Cathedral
Inside Prague Cathedral

The consultation was brought to its close with a special service in Prague Cathedral followed by a reception at the Archbishop’s Palace. The 19th Consultation is going to be held in Madrid and I very much hope to be there!

In addition to meeting those from other countries in Europe, this experience has helped to build my connections with colleagues across the UK and Ireland. These delegates represented a wide range of denominations and wider belief groups who are committed to working together to develop healthcare chaplaincy within our own contexts as well as between our national groups.

UK and Irish healthcare chaplains
UK & Irish delegates at the consultation. From L to R Liz Allison, Daniel Nuzum, Andrew Williams, Simon Harrison, Lindsay de Wal, Paula Trainor, Sarah Crane, Rosie Morton, Jill Thornton, Mark Newitt

I will be sharing more of my reflections from the consultation with the other chaplains across the UK as part of a feedback session in May 2024. It was attending this session after the 2022 consultation that started my interest in attending the one in Prague. This invitation has gone out to 500 Free Churches Group healthcare chaplains and may be shared more widely.

I have also had a number of conversations with healthcare chaplains, firstly within my own team, and more broadly, I aim to be an advocate for the value of an experience like this. An experience which has nourished my own commitment to diversity and to broadening understanding beyond our own culture and traditions.