Hospital Ministry

Fr John Winstanley writes:

As a priest for sixteen years, I have been a hospital chaplain for ten of them, first in Carlisle and then in Blackpool.  The hospital chaplain’s role is to care for the spiritual needs of patients, relatives and staff.  At the heart of this ministry is the celebration of the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation, Holy Communion and the Sacrament of the Sick.  Occasionally, Baptism is celebrated in hospital when an infant is in danger.  Marriage can also be celebrated in very particular circumstances, although I have not had direct experience of arranging this in hospital.

The hospital chaplain is available in two ways.  Firstly for emergencies, with a rota in which other priests in the area cover for days off, holidays, retreats, and courses.  The bleep can sound at any time, day or night, usually requiring the chaplain to go into the hospital to anoint a person who is very poorly or dying.  This is the ministry of Jesus - laying hands on the sick; being present when life is at its most vulnerable.  Sometimes there is little to say, but the presence of the priest can offer reassurance and comfort to the patient and their relatives. 

The second role of the priest within the hospital is simply being there and seen.  This is about being part of the daily round:  smiling to people on the corridor; offering to help when people look lost and are looking for a ward or department; gradually trying to acknowledge staff and gain their confidence; being aware of what’s going on in a constantly changing NHS.

The hospital chaplain does not work in isolation but as part of a team.  In Carlisle, I worked with chaplains from other Christian denominations. In Blackpool it was the same but with the addition of Jewish and Muslim faith leaders. Within the specific care of Catholic patients, the ministry of the lay volunteers plays an important part.  The work of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, commissioned specifically for work in the hospital, supports the work of the priest.  They provide a presence, usually working on designated wards, and liaising with the priest when people need to see him. 

Chaplains and volunteers meet many people on the wards who may not be practising their faith but might be quite happy to chat.  Sometimes they ask us to pray with them. Every encounter is about respecting people where they are. You never know where time spent with someone may lead them to in the future!

It is over five years since I completed six years as chaplain at Victoria Hospital in Blackpool.  Now as a parish priest in Blackpool, I assist on the rota of priests who help provide bleep cover for the present chaplain, Fr John-Paul Evans. It is always a privilege to be with people at the most precious times in their lives – it is for me what being a priest is all about. 

Lancaster Vocations Team Contacts: 

Director of Vocations: (for enquirers aged over 21 years)

Father Darren Carden

St Clare’s Presbytery

Sharoe Green Lane North

Fulwood, PRESTON, PR2 9HH

Telephone: (01772) 719604

 Mobile/SMS text: 07552 795060


 Co-Director of Vocations: (for enquirers aged 15-20 years)

Canon Adrian J Towers

 St Andrew’s Presbytery 114 Hoyle’s Lane

Cottam, PRESTON, PR4 0NB

 Telephone: (01772) 726166