Saturday 27 September 2008

My official "Induction" - Australian style - as Chaplain Manager of The Canberra Hospital

Friends (and family):

Last evening, Thursday, 25 September 2008, was a very empowering experience for me, especially when, near the end, the entire gathering of 50 some participants in the hospital's Chapel gathered round and laid their hands on me or extended their prayers through others to me in a fantastic web of support and affirmation. Carole Anne and I then closed the service together, just prior to my benediction, by sharing/teaching one of our favorite hymns: "My Life Flows On", in keeping with the River of Life theme (Psalm 46) that was utilized in the service and is depicted visually in the Chapel itself.

I will post on my blog the audio file of that entire 45 minute service which Carole Anne had the foresight to record on our digital recorder (plus include there, later, some other nice pics taken on our digital camera by Jane Barr) if I can figure out how to transform a 10 MB wma file into a more manageable mp3 file.

Here's the copy sent to TCH Public Relations for publishing:

Chaplain Clair Hochstetler is The Canberra Hospital's new Manager of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care Department, who comes to us after ten years in a similar position with a health system in northern Indiana, USA. Clair was officially commissioned into his new responsibilities during a packed-out induction service Thursday evening 25 September '08, in the Chapel which depicts the theme of the River of Life. Pictured here is Rev. Jim Barr (on the left) of Canberra Baptist Church, a member of the search committee and representing the Ecumenical Churches Council, offering Clair one of four symbols, a digital voice recorder set to "high sensitivity" representing good listening skills. Other symbols were the towel and basin (authentic service to others), the Book (a Bible in both English and another Asian language), and a lantern (holding forth the light, inspiration, and hope in the midst of darkness.)

Also standing are the four other chaplain team leaders at TCH, supported by their respective faith groups and teams of chaplain volunteers - and coordinated by Clair who also leads the General team. They received the symbols from Clair and shared in a litany: Sr. Kathleen Keenan (Catholic), Rev. Arnold Bartholomew (Presbyterian), Rev. Richard Pedersen (Uniting Church), and Rev. Harley Lockley (Anglican.) Seated are Carole Anne, Clair's spouse, and Geoffrey Hunter, chair of the ACT Pastoral Care Board, to which Clair now reports. Also involved were representatives of Baptist Community Services of NSW and ACT (through whom Clair is contracted with ACT Health), other members of the ACT Health and Welfare Chaplains Association, the Ecumenical Churches Council, various members of the the TCH staff and patients/families already touched by Clair's ministry, and members of the Canberra Baptist Church with whom Clair and Carole Anne affiliate.


Now, folks, for another major point of celebration: I got the official word just last week that the leading officer of ACT Health in charge of authorizing the funds to make it happen has actually finally inked the agreement to hire me full time here at this hospital system as of February 1. I'm contracted for 25 hours a week now -- and am continuing part-time in pastoral care consultation & program development with the Canberra Baptist Church until then.

That moves the TCH chaplaincy management position from 15 hrs a week (my predecessor) to 0.6 FTE (now) to 1.0 FT over this space of 7 months, and will then allow me to ramp up at least 50% of my time for direct care of patients/families, which is what I really want.

Walking a bit on the clouds today,

Thursday 4 September 2008

Reflections on a News Report: "Afghan Bombing: 90 Killed" (Among Them, 60 Children?)

I'm sharing, verbatim, this reflection I received today from a friend, Gene Stoltzfus, which is "just intended to keep everyone alert as the sun sets on summer" in the US of A. -Clair

Afghan Bombing: 90 Killed

On August 21 a major bombing tragedy occurred near the western Afghan province of Herat. According to the Afghan government and UN sources, 60 children and 30 civilian adults were killed. The Pentagon has disputed this charge and said that only five civilians and 25 Talilban insurgents were killed in the midnight air attack on the village of Azizabad. Ninety percent of all aircraft in the Afghan war belong to the US. Air attacks have increased dramatically as the Taliban have gotten stronger over the last year. In one month, July of this year, the total tonnage of dropped bombs equalled the total tonnage for all of 2006. The air war in Afghanistan is growing as the balance in the ground war shifts to engage intensified Taliban strength.

Afghan officials in Herat said that the bomb fell on villagers who had gathered for a memorial ceremony for a person killed last year. This story was a minor blip in the late August headlines as US politicians maneuvered for position at the polls and struggled to outdo one another to support the war effort in Afghanistan. Unless an independent inquiry is launched the entire incident, perhaps one of many in Afghanistan, will hover on the edge our consciousness for several months as official military inquiries grind on until its memory disappears.

But, an independent inquiry requires people on the ground with skills in interviewing, cross checking and a commitment to establishing the truth. Included among the questions would be how many people were killed? Was there reliable or inaccurate intelligence? Had villagers actually gathered for a ceremony of remembrance? Was the ceremony a cover for other organizational endeavours? Were there civilians present? Were there actually 30 children killed? Why would children be present if the event was called for strategic reasons? As a real inquiry developed, these questions would lead to deeper questions related to air strikes in general and the accountability of expatriate bombings to the Afghan government.

In conditions of war where suspicions run high and truth is regularly compromised it is difficult but not impossible to carry out such an inquiry. For credibility a team of fact finders would need to be made up of a combination of Afghan and international participants who can carry on conversations and ask questions in an atmosphere of trust. My own experience is that the passions unleashed by an event such as this pushes the families of victims to outbursts of anger mixed with statements of truth telling. By meeting enough people a general picture of what occurred can be reconstructed and described in detail. It may be more difficult to gain reliable information from military sources but even this is not impossible. My experience is that despite the appearance of rigid discipline and single mindedness there are soldiers who will talk usually off the record and after a respectful relationship has been established.

In violent conditions like the town of Azizabad on August 21, 2008, persons from the outside may be viewed as deceptive representatives of those who carried out the bombing unless introductions are facilitated in a trusted manner. Other forms of trust building may be required. But most important is the interview process itself. Where trauma, hatred, fear, distrust and grief are present, relating with a personal touch can be crucial. The quality of the interview, if limited only to the objective facts, may remain surface and even be devoid of factual reliability. The interviewer may need to address the pain and grief or the memory of the one(s) who died by questions such as, What can you tell me about the person who was killed? How was he or she known in the family or village? Did the person have any premonition that a terrible tragedy may be in store? Finally the team of inquiry will have to address the question that is uppermost in minds of families of the victims, What good will this inquiry achieve? Will anyone listen? Will we see compensation or justice for the tragedy?

This kind of work takes time. Many would prefer that an inquiry be bent to make recommendations to policy makers, i.e those who plan the bombing and target them My own judgment is that it is much better to simply tell the story of what happened as truthfully as possible. When the fact finding team is confident of the truth, its findings will speak for themselves. Perhaps the independent inquiry will find that US spokesperson Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green was right when she described the charges of killing so many civilians as, "outrageous". But, if official responses prove to be unfounded and it turns out that a massacre has occurred, the findings will cry out to the world with a quality of moral indignation that no one, not even a heavily medaled general can disregard for long.

To contact the author, Gene Stoltzfus:
RR #1 RMB 293, Fort Frances. ON P9A3M2
Box 1482, International Falls, MN 56649
tel. 807-274-0138
skype: Gene Stoltzfus

Tuesday 2 September 2008

A Nice Meditation for America's Labor Day...

SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL - By Dr. Michael A. Halleen

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?" (Psalm 42:11)

I've heard some grumbling about today — Labor Day in the U.S. It's the traditional start of the fall (and school!) season and, worse, it marks the end of summer in the minds of many in my part of the country. It's been a beautiful summer, and some of the grumbling, I confess, has been my own.

When I start to hear myself complain, I choose to recall my visit to a house church in Vladimir, Russia. On a stormy Sunday morning in May, just a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, twenty or so American travelers and I made our way down a steep hillside through a gloomy, old residential area. From the outside, the house appeared empty — no cars on the street, no light in the windows. Were we in the right place?

Indeed we were. Inside, a crowd three times our size had gathered and was waiting — shoulder to shoulder — for the still novel experience of sharing worship with Westerners. Folding chairs were being shared by two persons, and many people were seated, knees up, on the floor to make room for their honored guests. There was energy in that place, despite wrinkled faces and mournful songs.

The three-hour service concluded with a ceremonial foot-washing. Men went to one room, women to another. I was invited to be the first to have my feet washed. A pail of water and a towel were produced, and a man named Pavel eagerly knelt at my feet to do the honors. After carefully drying my feet, Pavel motioned for me to stand, whereupon he grabbed my shoulders and — in the Russian way — kissed me on the mouth. I was then to wash the feet of a Russian named Sasha. When I finished, I thought I could get by — in the American way — with a handshake. No chance. In that house, things were done by their rules.

As our hosts shared tea and bread with us in the early hours of the afternoon, Pavel took me aside. Gesturing toward the dreary street, he said, "Our souls are always sad if we think only of what we see in this world. But why be sad? With God nothing is impossible! He gives us something beautiful to think about every day! Thank you for visiting us!" And he (thankfully) shook my hand.

As the summer passes, Pavel — the Russian psalmist's — words ring in memory. How can I be downcast about the passing of a season? Love is strong, God is good, and there is something beautiful to think about — and something good to do — today.

Just a taste of what can be experienced when literal foot-washing is still included in communion time - just like it still is in the Church of the Brethren - and among many in the Mennonite tradition...

Blessings to all,
Clair Hochstetler
Canberra, Australia