The impact of Chaplaincy and its impact on me 

Richard Kellow joined St Andrew’s Healthcare in Northampton as an Honorary Chaplaincy Assistant in May 2021 and has recently been appointed as a Mental Health Chaplain with Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Trust (NHFT). 

I’d been ordained in the Church of England for eight years when I had a period of poor mental health which ultimately led me to re-evaluate my life and its direction. Out of that period of time came a calling to Chaplaincy, building on previous pastoral care involvement as a vicar. 

As part of a postgraduate course in Chaplaincy I undertook a two-hundred-hour placement at St Andrew’s Healthcare. I’ll be totally honest, I was apprehensive about doing my placement here– mainly because I thought my calling was to acute healthcare chaplaincy, having already undertaken some work as a locum acute healthcare chaplain. But finding a placement in the midst of a pandemic was not easy… every hospital I approached said no. Except St Andrew’s whose Lead Chaplain Philip Evans immediately said they would be delighted to have me! So that was it… off I went and it has been an extremely worthwhile experience which has confirmed in me a calling specifically to mental health chaplaincy. 

I’m enormously grateful to St Andrew’s for the experience that I have gained and all that I have learned. I have found satisfaction in pretty much every minute of my time there – from a wonderful group of chaplains hugely committed to the patients that they care for, to the wide variety of diverse patients themselves that I have met and had the privilege of walking alongside through some extremely tough times. From the very dedicated teams of staff that care for patients day in day out on the wards, to the multidisciplinary teams of professionals who strive to work together for the good of the patients I have found St Andrew’s to be a place of care and hope, even in very difficult circumstances. 

Chaplaincy is often misunderstood. From what a Chaplain does to what their purpose is. In short, the simplest way that I can describe it from my experience is that, motivated by and drawing upon their faith background, Chaplains are there to connect with both staff and patients of faith and no faith through the ups and downs of life… to walk with them, to encourage them, to support them, to listen and help them find hope whatever the circumstances. Yes, we also run services and pray for people among other things, but chaplaincy is so much more that ‘just’ those things: it’s helping people to find peace, connection and meaning, often at a time when those things are extremely hard to find. Spiritual care makes a significant positive impact on mental health. 

As I have spent time with patients, I can honestly say that I have often found myself feeling I was doing exactly what I should be doing in terms of life calling. I have heard sad stories, shocking stories, sometime haunting stories. But in and through it all I have found that the desire for human connection runs very deep indeed – through confusion, through past abuse, through past mistakes. In many senses I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that it feels as though I have had more pastoral impact in my time as St Andrew’s than the rest of my ordained ministry put together. 

So, thank you to St Andrew’s and thank you to all of the patients that I have had the privilege of walking alongside.