What is the etiquette when someone with a severe degenerative disorder and a broken left arm wants to blow their nose? Does one just fetch the tissue box, or should one take tissues out and hand them to the person? In this age when to touch someone is taboo, would it be acceptable to steady their right arm?
What is the response to the person who comes into the room and insists that they have been dressed in the wrong clothes all day and needs to put on their pyjamas? (No need to answer that one; the nurse appeared in the nick of time).
What is the appropriate answer to someone who tells you that they are a friend of Orpheus, that they are 86,044 years old and that they have been hung on a cross every night for the past 326 years?
How many times may one have the same set of conversations with someone who is confused? Is it reasonable to repeat the same set of questions for an hour every month, or is that just laziness? (Interestingly, the question routine has elicited new, previously ‘forgotten’, information on the past two occasions?)
Ordained in 1986, the experience of visiting confused people in nursing homes, and people in psychiatric care, was terrifying for years. The pastoral training in college had included two days in a psychiatric hospital, during which time we attended a series of talks and meetings and never once met a patient. The first time on a ‘locked ward’ as a curate was a step into the unknown. Nursing homes were just considered as ‘routine’ pastoral visiting; it was not considered necessary to have any special preparation.
No training can prepare one for every eventuality, but there might at least have been consideration of best practice, there might have been the odd “What do you do if . . .?” question asked, so that there was not such a feeling of vulnerability the first time the key was turned in a door.
Tomorrow’s ‘Church of Ireland Gazette‘ reports the signing of an agreement between Trinity College, Dublin and the Church of Ireland Theological Institute on groundwork for the new Master’s degree course that will provide the training framework for future Church of Ireland clergy. If a single plea might be made, can the course be so resourced, and the ordinands be so well trained, that clergy go out into parishes with preparation every bit as thorough as doctors receive before they step onto the ward for the first time as junior house officers?
The course was overhauled thirty years ago and an excellent syllabus written to provide for the professional training of clergy. Whole pages of that syllabus were literally deleted because no resources were available; I remember a page on pastoral psychology in my copy of the syllabus, a blue biro line had been drawn across the page from the top left to bottom right-hand corner. The accountants may protest that there is not the money to pay for all that might be wanted now, but if the resources of the church are not to be devoted to the care of God’s people, then why do we have them?