Please mind the gap – A personal reflection
Anyone who has travelled on a Sydney train will have heard the announcement “When alighting from the train please mind the gap”. But what does it mean to “mind the gap”? Firstly, you have to see the gap. Secondly, you have to safely step across the gap from the train to the platform (or vice versa). Thirdly, you have to remember not to stop – because that can hinder others getting onto the train or leaving the platform. Gaps are not easy. We need to see, step, and not stop.
From 8th to 11th October last year I joined with other Chaplains and Pastoral Carers from UnitingCare NSW.ACT and Wesley Mission for a conference entitled “Dancing in the gap”. I’m not sure that CityRail would approve of people “dancing” in the gap, but that is what we “carers” are called to do. Every day we endeavour to creatively respond to the challenges and opportunities of our different contexts: Aged Care, Children-Youth-Family Services, Mental Health, Hospital, Prison, Defence Force, Tertiary Education, School Chaplaincy and (Wesley) Mission.
Every day we have to see the gaps, safely step across them (and assist others to do so), and remember not to stop (because we don’t want to hinder others in their own journeys). For example, Aged Care Chaplains (to use the term generically) are part of the Uniting Church but we do not serve in Congregations. How do we bridge the “gaps” between Congregations and to Presbyteries and to Synod – and them to us? Aged Care Chaplains are called to affirm the vital role of religion or spirituality in what is predominantly a medical model of care that is very highly governed. This is a very complex “gap” indeed. Aged Care Chaplains seek to help residents cross the “gaps” from home into Independent Living, into Low Care Hostel, into High Care Nursing Home or into Dementia specific – “gaps” which can seem to them (and their families) as large as the Grand Canyon. Aged Care Chaplains daily help people (residents, relatives, volunteers, visitors and staff) cope with the “gaps” inherent in diminished health, dying and death. Aged Care Chaplains also need to continually fill the “gap” in their own knowledge and practice: particularly in dementia research and spiritual care planning. Then there are the gaps between church and the church’s community services or educational spheres, between church and the wider culture, between religion and spirituality and between tradition and innovation. Not only are Aged Care Chaplains – not to mention the other kinds of Chaplains – called to see and step and not stop, but to “dance” in these gaps!
So at our conference in October we danced! We danced with our indigenous brothers and sisters in a Welcome to Country around a fire. We danced with our keynote speaker Dr. David Tacey as we explored “Doing religion in a non-religious world”. We danced with our Moderator Rev. Dr. Brian Brown in a service of Holy Communion. We danced with the leaders of six parallel streams who represented the diversity of Pastoral Care: Joseph Abad (Dancing in harmony – celebrating our identity in community), Garry Derkenne (Professional and Ministry identity), Christine Gapes (Revealing images), Peter Oliver (Veiled references – the dance of pastoral conversations), Peter Pereira (Keeping the dance alive – healthy spirituality for life in the gap) and Rosemarie Say (Shall we dance? Engaging with those in the gap). We continued to dance as nominated Chaplains from Aged Care, Mental Health, Hospital and Prison spoke about their particular “dance floors”: whether it be continually “changing hats” in Aged Care or the unique challenges and isolation of Prison chaplaincy.
I danced with two new words: “adhocracy” (a flexible, adaptable and informal organizational structure without bureaucratic policies or procedures – quite a gap from our structure of interconnected councils) and “dadirri” (deep listening; inner quiet still awareness and waiting). I danced with the thought that “cracks let the light shine in”. I danced with some new ideas: carrying a small whiteboard so that I can write messages to residents who are hard of hearing, and using a “basket of blessings” (containing small notes with encouraging sayings and verses). I am still dancing with the thought that those whom we serve are “imprisoned” – whether they be residents, prisoners, patients or clients – and how I can work with God and others to “set the prisoners free”. I danced with the timely and helpful reminder “don’t forget to in-breathe” – knowing that if I don’t then I will truly run out of breath for the dance.
I am reminded of a story about dancing and gaps. A teenager was asked to interview an old person about his life. She asked her Uncle, “What was the biggest historical event that happened during your childhood?” He replied, “I’d have to say the moon walk”. She looked disappointed. “That dance was so important to you?”
In the gaps don’t forget to see, step and not stop – and above all, please remember to dance.
Rev. Frank Van Der Korput
UnitingCare Ageing Sydney North
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