Dave Smith – Chaplain
I’m the full-time chaplain at Dorothy House – sometimes known as spiritual care co-ordinator. I look after the spirituality and spiritual care provision for patients, the people who care for them, staff and volunteers. We have Christian foundations – that’s what Dorothy House is built on – but we are also multi-faith and we work with people who have no faith but who wish to discuss their spiritual journey.
Every day is different and the job is very varied. I might be taking a funeral, sitting with someone who’s dying, involved with a steering group, talking to a staff member who’s having a tough time, giving spiritual direction to someone, or leading worship.
I look after the chapel with a team of six volunteers – one who does administration and five who help with spiritual care in the outreach centres at Peasedown St John and Trowbridge, the Day Patient Unit and the Inpatient Unit. It’s really just responding to spiritual care needs as they arise. Last Thursday for instance, I planned a funeral for someone, saw a patient on the IPU, two on the DPU then a volunteer wanted to talk to me about a personal issue. I do work that’s not necessarily seen because it’s always confidential. I’m here for staff and volunteers as well. The Staff Care Information Forum is something I’m involved with.
My volunteers aren’t necessarily Christians – there are two Buddhists on the team, for instance. Everyone is offered chaplaincy services when they come here. Some patients specifically request it but others have their own faith group they’re part of. I don’t always get involved but will chat with them if they want. Some people don’t want any input from the chaplain until they know what the chaplain does. I don’t push a specific religious belief at anyone. When patients realise that, it often opens the door to me.
I used to be a social worker but am now a lay minister in the Church of England. I have a licence with Salisbury Anglican Diocese to minister here. My degree is in Theology. I worked in mental health services, running a care home for adults of working age with mental health needs. Then I sort of fell into social work, specialising in dementia care and end of life care. I’ve had health issues myself, and time out. Before Dorothy House I worked for another hospice, then with older people as a chaplain. My profile really points in this direction. I’ve been at Dorothy House about eight months.
I love my job. I feel I do something that brings about change and understanding in people’s lives. Last year, I held a service with two minutes silence for Remembrance Day. It was well attended by staff and patients. One patient said afterwards she felt she’d had a spiritual experience there – a profound moment with no name – not belonging to any set religion or belief system. That encapsulates for me what people might use chaplaincy for and, equally, I’ve had staff seeking perspective who have wanted to chat with me.
I’m one step removed and conversations with me are confidential – the old fashioned term is taking confession, but sometimes people want to tell me things that they can’t tell anyone else. Equally, as a chaplain I can say things that no one else can dare to say. Of course, it’s sensitive. It’s always about discerning the situation.
I’ve learned in previous jobs – particularly in the social work setting – how to switch off. Plus I have my faith. I love gardening, music, and I ‘m writing a novel and I love my beloved dog. At church I don’t talk about work – not just because it’s confidential but because of keeping boundaries. I also have monthly private supervision, so I can talk it out with someone who is remote from Dorothy House.
The thing that strikes me is that everyone works hard here– you never see a shirker. And you never hear raised voices – there are no slanging matches. Coming from social work, you notice that. We’re a measured and considerate community. And we have the most beautiful chapel.
Dorothy House was recently rated ’Outstanding ‘by the CQC because we are outstanding. I work in an excellent organisation and that’s a great honour. We have to remember we’re working in a building where people might be dying or are very, very seriously ill. I see every dynamic in my work. I might be laughing with someone at lunch and then I’m called to sit with someone who’s dying. And that can happen in the space of 10 minutes. I feel privileged to work here. I’ve found my perfect job.