The street savvy hospital chaplain who’s become all things to all people across the denominational divide
Rotorua Hospital Chaplaincy Trust’s major annual fundraiser this coming Friday will be Ray Bloomfield’s last breakfast.
Well, not the last as in Christ and his disciples’ last supper, but the last as Rotorua Hospital’s interdenominational chaplain, a role he’s embraced for 26 years.
He officially retires on November 26.
Instinct tells Ray the time’s come to hang up his vestments, not that he wears them. Ray’s not that kind of minister, priest, call him what you will.
In reality he’s an ordained Church of God bishop but in his time at the hospital ministering to patients, their families and staff, he’s become all things to all people regardless of creed, an “everyman” kind of guy.
With a personality as large as his impressive frame and an even more gigantic heart, Ray is a person’s person, someone who moves heaven and earth to get things done.
The Queens Service Medal he received a decade ago testifies that. For instance, when the Government announced it was pulling the plug on hospital chaplaincy funding in the 1990s, Ray kept Rotorua’s alive by establishing its unquestionably successful chaplaincy trust.
“I realised we were now dependant on fundraising as well as the contributions from churches to keep chaplaincy afloat, Wellington [government departments] told me in no uncertain terms it would never work. It did and it does.”
Much of its success can be sheeted back to Ray’s impressive list of community contacts. Need a wedding arranged in record time where an incurable illness is about to terminate one partner’s life?
Ray waves his wand in the direction of those who can make it a reality fast — and it does.
Such events have become a sadly regular scenario in his chaplain’s role.
A favourite success story is the Zambian nurse who arrived with only a tattered plastic bag of worldly possessions.
“We got the word out, our staff gave her clothes, raised money so she didn’t need a money lender to help bring her child here, all the churches donated, the Catholics gave that kid free education.”
Presently being helped is someone dependent on medical marijuana to keep fits under control.
It’s under the radar stuff but, he emphasises, legal.
So what do we know of this man who thumbs his nose at bureaucratic naysayers as he’s become a lifeline for so many?
He may be a man of the cloth but he’s street savvy, he’s had guns and knives pulled on him, acid sprayed down his throat, been “bottled” and whipped with chains in the years he served his church “apprenticeship” in some of this country’s scarily tough towns and cities.
The acid incident was in Napier, mid-sermon.
“A guy I’d counselled about beating his wife turned up with a knife and spray bottles in both hands, as I opened my mouth he sprayed my throat with acid, amazingly there was no major damage.”
He’s taken his exposure to violence in his giant stride. Walk down a hospital corridor with him and, like Our People, most will be jogging to keep up.
There’s not a minute to waste in his job, his life. Despite his looming retirement, Ray remains passionate about his allotted place in the hospital structure, reiterating that his is a very privileged position to be in.
His introduction to chaplaincy work was when he was invited to stand in for the then part-time chaplain. It coincided with a period where he was feeling “trapped” in his church work.
“After one day at the hospital I went home and said to Pat [his wife of 46 years] ‘I’ve found people with real problems and it’s great’. I loved it.”
To prepare for furthering the role, he completed the required unit in Clinical Pastoral Education, locumed at Waikato Hospital and had applied to become Waikeria’s prison chaplain when the Rotorua posting presented itself.
“I became the first stipended [paid] hospital Pentecostal chaplain in Australasia, possibly the Southern Hemisphere.”
He’s presently supported by a team of 13 volunteers and the hospital Catholic chaplain Myoko Hammersley (Our People, August 13, 2010.)
“The beauty of being an ecumenical hospital chaplain is that you’re free of church politics.”
Church a political hot bed, surely not?
“Oh brother, let me tell you, they’re big, here I’m working with such a highly skilled team of health professionals politics don’t come into it.
“I’m meeting people daily at their deepest point, that’s very rewarding even if they are nonbelievers. I see patients who say they haven’t been near a church for 30 years, I say ‘that’s fine, I’m here to be your friend’.
“A lot of people have had negative experiences in their church.
“We [chaplains] can validate their experience and help them reconnect if they want to, we’re not allowed to proselytise, convert people.
“Chaplaincy’s about building trust not preaching denominational religions, helping people know where they’re at and connecting.”
With chaplaincy sewn up, we turn to Ray outside hospital doors.
The pause that follows our question on that score seems interminable, one of those where we wonder who’ll crack first, Ray with an answer or us with a prompt.
The response eventually comes with the classic “that’s a really interesting question”, a stall by someone playing for time to formulate a cogent response.
We interpreted Ray’s delayed answer as that in and out of chaplaincy he’s the same person.
Family’s paramount and for years he’s been a passionate Rotarian, having worn the Rotary Club of Rotorua’s president’s chain and is a long-serving JP.
“I guess I just love people. On my days off I sit in Capers or the Third Place [cafes] with my book, I don’t get much read, I can spend the whole day there talking to people. That’s what I love about Rotorua.”