Friday 30 October 2009

A Blessing-of-Hands During Pastoral Care Week at The Canberra Hospital

You are invited to view the photo album I posted on 'the web': "Our Blessing-of-Hands Ceremony 28 October 2009 at The Canberra Hospital" which was held in a courtyard just outside our chapel. This turned out to be a very significant highlight during our celebration of International Pastoral Care Week this year -- a "first" here at TCH.

I originally designed and coordinated this multi-faith service, but the event included the preparation and involvement of approximately 30 to 35 others chaplains and volunteer pastoral carers in our department - as well as a dozen or so colleagues from many other parts of the hospital. (I had earlier "bribed" the hospital staff to come by putting a little advertisment on the top lid of 25 tins of cookies, and then we took them around to various parts of the hospital to let them know what was happening during Pastoral Care Week here. Obviously that strategy worked - that, plus offering the food after the 15-minute service!)

Among some other things that were first said or shared, the ceremony included a couple minutes of reflection about the nature of pastoral care, utilizing a piece I'd adapted from something Dr. Alan Wolfelt had originally written about "companioning" and which is now entitled "Pastoral Care is..." :

Pastoral care is about honouring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.

Pastoral care is about curiosity; it is not about expertise.

Pastoral care is about learning from others; it is not about teaching them.

Pastoral care is about walking alongside; it is not about leading.

Pastoral care is about being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.

Pastoral care is about discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it is not about filling every painful moment with words.

Pastoral care is about listening with the heart; it is not about analysing with the head.

Pastoral care is about bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about directing those struggles.

Pastoral care is about being present to another person’s pain; it is not about taking away the pain.

Pastoral care is about respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.

Pastoral care is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.

Pastoral care is about being with someone as they seek meaning, purpose and hope on the journey of life; it is not about imposing easy answers.

We then invited everyone to join in this litany:

Blessed Be These Hands:

Blessed be these hands that have touched life.
Blessed be these hands that have felt pain and tiredness.
Blessed be these hands that have lovingly embraced others with compassion.
Blessed be these hands that have been clinched in anger, or been withdrawn in fear.
Blessed be these hands that have drawn blood and administered medicine, written policies, protected patients, made progress notes, and cut through red tape.
Blessed be these hands that have cleaned bodies and beds, and disposed of wastes.
Blessed be these hands that have anointed the sick and suffering, offered blessings and prayers.
Blessed be these hands, some still smooth with youth - some that have grown stiffer with age.
Blessed be these hands that have comforted the dying and held the dead.
Blessed be these hands and all the creativity they engage.
Blessed be these hands, for with them we hold the future.
Blessed be our hands, for they are the work of your hands, O Holy One.

After that was read, all who wished could come forward to have their own hands anointed with oil, with the words of assurance: "May what is soiled be cleansed. May what is wounded be healed. Go in the strength of this blessing!"

All - including some patients and family members nearby in the courtyard who observed all this and said they, too, felt touched by the experience - were invited to join in with our special Morning Tea afterward. Many said they would like to see this experience repeated again next year - or even more often!

The collection of 21 photos were taken by Aili O'Flaherty, pastoral carer practitioner on the Uniting Church Team at TCH. Not all participants are pictured, obviously, but these shots are representative of activity that occurred.

Simply move the "slider" at the top of this collection further to the right if you want to enlarge the photos as you view the collection - or click on them individually.

I made some laminated bookmarks after the event to give to the many chaplains and volunteer pastoral care practitioners in our department, utilizing one of these photos and including the following prayer of "Blessing For the Work of Our Hands":
May our hands and all that they do be blessed.

May they be strong, creative, and gentle.

May the Spirit guide them.

May they provide comfort and healing.

May their touch remind patients of God’s divine grace and mercy.

May they work with compassion, and may they also play and rest in good measure.

May they feel beauty, create peace, and clap with joy.

May our hands and all that they do be blessed.

Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands! (Psalm 90:17)



  1. I've just finished Clinical Pastoral Orientation training. I'm working as a volunteer Chaplain at Joondalup Health Campus in Perth, Western Australia. I've just printed off several copies of "A Blessing-of-Hands During Pastoral Care Week at The Canberra Hospital". Thank you for your sacred work. Lyn Clark

  2. Thanks, Lyn! Glad I could be of some help and inspiration. We will probably make this an annual event.

    And maybe some day we can meet in person. I've thought sometimes about how it might be good to live in WA for a while -- but after my work here is done, at least a few more years down the track...