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I was called to see a patient who was dying. He was surrounded by family. They told me story after story till their words drifted into prayer.  “Chaplain, will you please pray.” There is still much construction in our hospital and a drill was going seemingly non stop. I had to raise my voice in prayer in order to be heard. Everyone else in the four patient room could also hear me. So when I was leaving the room patient in the next bed called me over, “Please Chaplain pray for me too.”

To be a Chaplain.

Many Chaplains, particularly in Toronto, have chosen to call themselves Spiritual Care Professionals. Perhaps this is to distance themselves from religion or perhaps it is in the belief that it gives them a wider reach. I would prefer to let them speak for themselves. To be called a Chaplain offers me clarity of introduction.

In Mount Sinai Hospital our department is called “Chaplaincy Services”. There are four of us on staff, including our director of Chaplaincy Services who is also Rabbi. And a Chaplain. We have five on-call Chaplains working on a regular rota for nghts and weekends. We have a Synagogue and a Spiritual Oasis, both of which are chapels. As Chaplains we are keepers of these chapels, and more.

The word Chaplain is part of the language of the western world. It comes from a latin word. This means that sometimes in multi cultural Toronto I offer the story of the word, which helps explain what I do.

Chaplain is associated to the word Chapel. According to Wikipedia, traditional stories about St. Martin of Tours (316AD) say that as a soldier he cut his military cloak in half to give part to a beggar. The other half he wore over his shoulders as a “small cape” ( latin: capella). Helping the beggar, or Christ in disguise, brought about conversion of heart for Martin.  He became first a monk, then an abbot, then a bishop. His cape came into the possession of the Frankish kings who kept the relic with them as they did battle. The tent which kept the cape was called the capella and the priests who said daily mass in the tent were known as the capellani. From these words we arrived to   “Chapel” and “Chaplain”.

A chapel is a place outside the regular building of prayer/contemplation and though the word “capella” evolved in Christian circles the use has not stayed there. As for me, I would say I look after the Chapel but like a cape, or a tent, I can also carry it wherever I go. So in my imagination I am pitching my tent as I move through my day, be it in a hospital room or an ethics meeting. And the prayer or the the conversation or the intimate quiet is shaped by the people I am with. The chapel, the pitching of my tent at each new moment, is their sacred space. I seek God wherever I may be.

To be a Chaplain.  What does the name mean to you?


Joanne Davies

About Joanne Davies

I am a Hospital Chaplain in Toronto. I began doing on call work during my Divinity studies. After receiving my M.Div. I completed a year's residency in CPE at St. Michael's hospital. For the past 11 years I have been a Toronto Diocesan Chaplain. I am the Ecumenical Chaplain at Mount Sinai Hospital and the Chaplain at St. John's Rehab. I am also an Anglican priest. And a Trekkie. And a Vegetarian who loves to vacation in Venice Beach, California.
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