The street savvy hospi­tal chap­lain who’s be­come all things to all peo­ple across the de­nom­i­na­tional di­vide

Rotorua Daily Post - - OUR PEOPLE -

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.”

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