The big interview GOD’S COMPASSION
The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability’s (RHN) lead chaplain, Geoff Coyne, and auxiliary nurse, Ruth Hussey-Yeo, Registered Nurse at St George’s Nursing Home in Milford-on-Sea, spoke to Sheila Marshall about working in the adult care environment.
ET: When did you come to faith in Christ?
Geoff Coyne: It was when I was 11, through the school Christian Union. One of the first messages I heard was from Romans 6:23: ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life’. This message brought total conviction in me and I came to accept Jesus.
ET: What’s distinctive about your chaplaincy at the RHN?
GC: The RHN is for people who have suffered severe brain damage due to disease or injury. The initial emotional impact of this was hard; it showed me that I didn’t have all the answers.
ET: How do you connect with patients in this context?
GC: I rotate over 13 wards during two weeks. Where appropriate I give spiritual care — reading the Scriptures, praying with the patients and encouraging them in their faith.
To those who would profess no faith I offer friendship. That may be chatting to them, reading the news or sports news or taking an interest in what interests them. I try to get to know patients individually.
The key is to find ability within disability. The core of my congregation is made up of people with different degrees of brain damage, so you can’t easily tell how the Word is being received.
I believe the Holy Spirit administers the Word to the human spirit despite disability, and he brings assurance to the soul. I won’t necessarily see the results of my ministry.
ET: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
GC: Bereavement is more than losing someone in death. We come across many who are grieving because they have been dispossessed of a loved one through brain injury, although they still have them in body.
ET: How has this affected your understanding of healing?
GC: It’s reinforced that, while God (the First Cause) can do the miraculous, he normally uses Second Causes such as doctors, nurses and medicine. I’ve not seen a miracle here yet, but have seen healing and rehabilitation through the work of the medical and therapy teams’ nurses. There is a lot of angst in grieving. Recovering from brain injury is so slow and people have high expectations which aren’t always met.
ET: What’s your approach to supporting grieving relatives?
GC: You can’t have preconceived ideas about how people are going to grieve. There is no right or wrong way to behave in bereavement. Some relatives may visit for five minutes or never come. People can be angry or calm, but you can’t judge people.
Also, people do church differently and faith matures over time. There are people who have only ever heard the gospel here.
ET: What connection do you have with the local church?
GC: This hospital has Christian roots. Andrew Reed, a congregational minister, founded the hospital in the nineteenth century.
I visit churches and encourage them to pray for the chaplaincy. I believe that this place is close to God’s heart and the church should give prayerful support, if nothing else. This is an evangelical chaplaincy, although it’s a secular environment.
On a personal level I am a member of a local Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) church.
ET: How does the secular environment affect your role?
GC: It means I can’t do some things that I’d do in a normal church setting, but I still have a lot of freedom. We are an independent charitable hospital run as a secular concern, but the RHN does recognise pastoral care.
This hospital is everybody’s home. This gives us a core worshipping community. We get about between 80 and 90 people on a Sunday morning, though smaller numbers at the services in the week.
The wards are people’s homes. I give them the same respect as I would when visiting someone’s home. But that doesn’t stop me sharing Christ in care and kindness. I also provide pastoral support to family and staff.
People know I’m going to respect them, so I’m given a lot of liberty. I’m here to be a friend and offer support. The chaplaincy is simple and accessible. I don’t do ritualism and so people don’t feel threatened or excluded.
ET: How do you make your service accessible to those with little or no faith?
GC: You build relationships. People who wouldn’t normally come to church, or have no faith in Christ, might ask me to conduct a funeral because of the relationship I have built with them. In a very simple way, among the words of thanksgiving and comfort, I can share simple gospel truths. I haven’t yet had anyone who has refused.
ET: How do you spend your days off?
GC: I play squash, read, listen to music and do housework. I’m reading Martin Lloyd-Jones’ Spiritual depression. I felt it was good to re-read about the fundamentals of faith and how we think as Christians. I’m also reading Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe.
ET: Tell us a bit about your journey into faith.
Ruth Hussey-Yeo: There was a lot of input in Sunday school and children’s meetings. I remember being challenged at a very young age about Jesus being my Saviour, if I trusted in him. Then in my teenage years I recommitted my life to the Lord and have gone on with the Lord taking me step by step
ET: How did you come to work in the care sector?
RHY: I spent over 16 years as a missionary midwife in the Emirates and returned seven years ago to look after my elderly mother, who passed away last year. I was working as a care assistant while doing a ‘return to nursing’ course and have really enjoyed being in the care sector for the elderly.
ET: How has your faith influenced your role?
RHY: The World Health Organisation’s definition of health is a state of political, social and mental wellbeing. In other words, health involves a person’s body, mind and spirit. Compassion is very important in nursing. As a Christian, the Lord gives me his compassion, over and above what’s humanly possible sometimes.
ET: How does this work out from day to day?
RHY: In various ways. I spend time with the relatives of those approaching death or grieving over death. Also, elderly residents may be in the home for a long time. They will be in some stage of bodily weakness or reduced mental alertness, and have emotional needs as well.
The generation we are now looking after have gone to Sunday school and know the hymns well. If someone is agitated, I sometimes (with permission) sing a hymn. It might trigger something in their memory.
ET: Has your faith been overtly challenged?
RHY: I don’t get opposition for being a Christian. Our team is respectful of the beliefs of others.
ET: What is your response to the controversies surrounding the adult care sector?
RHY: A Christian makes a difference by being a good example in the work place. You realise that people may look up to you when they see you showing compassion and see how you treat patients and colleagues.
ET: How should we view the elderly?
RHY: Our attitude should be one of respect and understanding. One of the big challenges is giving them time. You can give time to listen to someone’s life story with respect and empathy. You can tap into such stories, since often, although short-term memory has gone, long-term memory is intact.
ET: How can Christians support the elderly and adult care professionals?
RHY: It’s helpful when Christians visit church members in care homes; or take services, sing hymns and visit care homes pastorally.
Christians could be more educated about the issues of aging. There are courses on how a church can reach out to older people in their community.
ET: What verse has spoken to you recently?
RHY: Matthew 11:29 is often on my heart. Jesus says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’.
Somebody’s described a nursing home as God’s waiting room. It’s challenging when people die. You might come home from work in the evening and not see that person the next time you’re on duty. You can think you’ve not done enough.
It’s in speaking to the Lord about it, and laying it down before him, that you find rest. I have to put that into practice all the time.