Welcome everyone. Today we have Sean with us which is very exciting for me. Sean is married to Yvonne and they have three boys and Sean often takes our Kids’ Spot which is quite fun and the one I remember most is the one with all the whale sound effects. It was the whale and the cork on the ocean.
That was a long time ago, Ruth
I know, well I was going to mention the one where your outdoor fire pit got stolen but then I thought I’d go with the Whale. So as you can see it’s quite fun and you can find them sometimes on www.StClementsKingston.org.au which is our church website.
Is that right?
Yeah. Sometimes they put them up. Anyway, and Sean works as a chaplain at one of our local hospitals and he runs his own podcast (I found out) so this is the first time I’ve interviewed a podcaster.
Aww this is the first time I’ve been interviewed on another podcast, how exciting.
How exciting. So yeah, we’ll see how we go.
Or what we learn. Alright, serious question: How did you become a Christian?
How did I become a Christian? I was born into a semi-Christian family.
A semi-Christian family?
So my Mum became a Christian when she was pregnant with me. No, that’s not true. She became a Christian, just before she was pregnant with me. So she says, ‘Sean. you were my first Christian pregnancy.’ So I was prayed over and and loved in a Christian context from the very beginnings of my life. And she raised me in that way and my Dad is not … faith and him haven’t found each other.
And at some point I remember being a primary school age child and I thought, ‘I want this for me, not just from what Mum says and from what happens in church.’ So I remember making a commitment at some kind of event.
And then it wasn’t until I was in high school when my parents went along to Uniting Church in Brisbane and it didn’t work for me at all. I didn’t like it, I didn’t like the youth group, didn’t like anything about it, and I stopped going.
And there was, I never realised, but there was a part of me that just yearned for something beyond the temporal and I wanted something to invest into that was bigger than that. And I said to one of my friends at school, ‘Can I come to church with you?’ Because he went to church.
I went to a Lutheran school and there was a church there, and he went and so I started attending church. So from high school, that’s when I really owned my faith apart from my family, apart from anything else. And it just went from there.
So it’s almost like, you know you say ‘God doesn’t have any grandchildren.’ It was like you had to in a way reject your parent’s faith to find your own?
Not so much reject but find a way that was authentic to me. Sounds like a very first world kind of a journey.
Yeah, we don’t have that advantage of being starving and … yeah anyway, oh dear.
This is the most interesting interview yet! It’s all coming out now.
So you work as a chaplain, is that what is that what it’s called?
I’m called the pastoral care manager. I run the pastoral care department. So traditionally … so I’m going to get technical … chaplaincy is a faith-based service that comes in and shares within a faith context. I work for a Catholic hospital and Catholic Health Care believes in the spiritual wellbeing of its patients and they employ some nondenominational nonfaith-specific pastoral care staff. And I’m in charge of the pastoral care department. So there’s seven of us and they are remarkable human beings from a variety of different faith backgrounds and amazing work gets done.
And when I walk in with the badge ‘pastoral care’, I walk in and people say, ‘Oh hello pastor.’ I say ‘No, I’m not a pastor.’ And they say [on the phone], ‘Okay, I’ve got to go, I’m talking to the pastor!’
It’s better than ‘Oh hello Father’ ‘Nooo I’m not the Father.’ ‘Yes, father. I understand.’ ‘No I’m not a priest.’ ‘OK father.’
Whatever you need me to be today, I guess. Crikey.
So how did you choose to do that?
I didn’t choose to do that, Ruth.
OK, yeah. How did it choose you?
How long do we have?
Let’s go back. I was trying to work out what do I do at university. And I said, ‘Right, God if you want to have a role in my life, here’s your chance, because I’ve got no idea what I’m meant to do. Speak, Lord for I am listening.’
And two words popped into my mind: social sciences.
I thought ‘what is that?’
So I looked it up and it said psychology. So I thought ‘Crikey, OK’ And then I prayed and God said ‘talk to some other people’ and they all said ‘social sciences, I think is what would be great for you.’
OK, so I studied and I worked as a psychologist for a decade and for all the time I worked as a psychologist, I felt as though it was a rich kind of preparation for something else, but I never felt like that was my destination. Which is a really weird feeling. To be in a profession and to feel like ‘this isn’t where I’m going to end up.’
And for that length of time.
Yeah, it was a really strong sensation and it wasn’t ‘I need to get out’ and it wasn’t ‘I don’t like this’, but it was ‘this is not my destiny as a career.’
And through a long and complicated series of events, God call me into working for a church. So I was working as a lay minister in a church. But I don’t like organised church structure. I find it very difficult and I’ve got lots of problems with it. And here I was working for the church. I think God’s got an ironic sense of humour.
And then three years ago, again, another door opened and God said, ‘Go to Tasmania’. I said, ‘What?! Tasmania?’
You were in Brisbane in Queensland, right?
Yeah. Why would we do that? Do you have rocks in your head to move to Tasmania? But it was this profound sense of calling.
I said, well we can’t move to Tassie without a job. And so Yvonne hopped online and within the first minute she goes, ‘Um Sean, I think I’ve found the perfect job for you.’
I said, ‘What?’
She said, ‘they want someone that’s got a background in psychology and someone who has worked in full time ministry to come and lead the the pastoral care department.’
That’s my CV! That’s me. And that, in the context of a whole lot of other very significant signs, God was saying ‘Go.’ So tadaaa! Here we are.
Well, I’m very grateful for that.
So am I, Ruth, so am I.
And you’re not freezing anymore?
Yes I am. But I’ve just stopped complaining about it now, and we’re building a very warm house.
Awesome. So being in a Catholic hospital and working in this area, because I know that a lot of school chaplains, for example, they have to be very careful about how their faith interacts with their work even though they’re chaplains. So do you have those sort of same strictures on you?
No. So a lot of the school chaplains have got government funding for the chaplaincy positions whereas my funding is entirely by the hospital. So I don’t create any profit for the hospital. I just suck it up and consume it and spend it on food and mortgage and what not.
So we get no government funding as a hospital. So basically, there’s no restrictions on what I do or say, except for everything I do has to be patient-led. So every encounter has to be, what’s going on for this person lying in the bed? What is their issue? What’s the crisis that they’re facing? How can I touch them as a holistic being with a spiritual identity, and how can I nurture that spirit? And if it’s in a Christian context, then I can do that overtly as a Christian person with a Christian patient. If they are agnostic or Hindu or …I’ve met people who are dying who have said, ‘I’m so excited about dying because I go to be with – let’s call him, Fabio. (Let’s go with that.) I get to be with Fabio my spiritual partner who died in the 1500s in South America and him and his two spiritual guides are waiting with open arms to welcome me when I die, and I can’t wait to pass through the threshold and be with Fabio again.
And I sit there as a personal with a very Christian-centric worldview and part of inside of me is screaming, ‘Tell her about Jesus!’ and another part of me is going, ‘Don’t you dare condescend her by saying your spirituality is meaningless. And let me tell you the truth.’
So, at times, it’s very, very conflicted as I’m literally with people on the cusp of life and death transitions. And my job is not to convert them. My job is to be Christ to them. Which can be very challenging. And it really tests my faith in the fact that God doesn’t need me to be the beginning, the middle in the end of his reaching out to people. But I am one part of a very big narrative of love that God has shared with this person in their life. Which can be humbling and difficult.
Yeah, but it’s something we all need to remember I think, sometimes we feel like we hold the whole burden evangelism on our shoulders. And just to remember that God doesn’t actually need us. But he chooses to use us.
So at times it’s very difficult. But at other times it’s incredibly freeing. Because I’ve prayed with many, many patients, and for somebody to be struggling, and I know they are a person of faith, I say ‘Can I pray for you?’ And it’s the most wonderful thing to sit with a stranger and pray through really intimate issues of their life struggles, that are front and centre as they lie in a hospital bed. There is no more vulnerable place than a hospital bed or a prison cell, I guess. But but to be in that space and have nothing but time stretching out in front of them for days and days and days. As they lie there feeling sick and vulnerable. The big issues come to the fore and to be able to be there with them in that time and that space is a profound privilege.
Absolutely. Do you have any stories that were particularly meaningful stories for you?
Yeah, the first death that I facilitated was particularly profound for me and it was the day that I started drinking whiskey.
Because at the end I was shaking as I rang up Yvonne. Because I’d been wanting to buy a bottle of Tasmanian whiskey. I said, ‘Today’s the day! I need a stiff drink!’
I’m not recommending that as a coping strategy but, oh wow.
Can we just be really clear on what you mean by a facilitated death?
That’s right, I said, ‘you want me –’ No. It was interesting, I actually got a phone call from a granddaughter and she said, ‘My grandmother’s dying, and I don’t know if she knows Jesus. Go and pray with her now.’
And all the alarm bells are going off about the conundrum that I was speaking about before. And I said ‘I’ll go and I’ll pray for your grandmother.’ And I found her and she was lying in bed near death, and her daughter – the mother of the person who called me – so there were three generations of women – was sitting with her holding her hand.
And I introduced myself and I said, ‘Your daughter rang me and she said I should come here and check on you.’
And as it turns out they were all strong Christian women. And had been all their life.
And this lady was lying there and as she was dying, the daughter was alone with her mum, with no other family members there and finding this incredibly difficult.
I said, ‘Would you like me to pray?’
And she said, ‘Please, would you?’
And I held the grandmother’s hand and I held the mother’s hand, and as I was praying, committing this lady’s spirit to God, she breathed her last last breath and died. And it was just … there are some moments that kind of reach out of the ordinary narrative of life and touch something eternal. And I have been around death before but I’ve never been in prayer for someone’s soul as it passes from their body into God’s care. It was big man, big! There are some days that you don’t forget.
And your first death holding someone’s hand on the ward is one of those.
And that brings up something else too, that you’re not just with the patients. You’re with the families as well. So that must bring a whole other level to it?
Sure, and friends. Yeah, anyone who’s there.
So every time there’s a medical emergency, a Code Blue or a met call, which is what they call it when basically they hit the red button and the people run in with the crash cart, I go as well. Or someone from my team goes as well. Not to bless them as they are passing beyond the nether realms but to … if there’s a family member in the room often they get kicked out, and they land in the passage way and their loved one has just ceased to have the normal signs of life and they’re tripping out so yeah, that’s very good to be able to be there.
And even just on Friday, I was walking, I was chairing a meeting and somebody was late and I was going to find them, and I’m power walking, and this hand reaches out and grabs me as I’m walking past the waiting area. And it’s this lady who had a met call, and her husband was kicked out of the room, and I spent a morning with her husband as she was going from place to place and I became quite close with them as a couple. And she was so glad to see a friendly face as she came in to have further surgery.
It’s really sweet to have an ongoing connection with people who come in for care.
And do you do much with children?
Hospitals are full of old people, so 95% of patients are elderly or beyond retirement age and up. No that’s not true. But most of the children who come in are not complex patients so they’re there for grommets and tonsils and broken arms. And so they are in and out. So generally they’ll come in, they’ll have surgery, then they’re groggy for the rest of the day, and they’re out the next morning. So there’s very little opportunity to be with kids.
I asked that because I’ve seen you dress up as, you did the Star Wars thing or something didn’t you, on May the 4th?
Yes, yes. But that’s all for the grown ups. They loved it, they loved it! My goodness, it was so much fun!
And as well as caring for patients and their families our role as pastoral carers is also to care for the carers. To care for the staff members. So a lot of the work that I do as manager is facilitating issues in other parts of the hospital with staff members.
I can think of many workplaces that could do with a bit of pastoral care like that.
Yeah absolutely. So it’s lovely to be in a space where we are there. And we’ve had some crises recently and the CEO said, ‘This is big and I want all of you to know,’ to the management team and the hospital staff, ‘Sean is here and his team to care for you and your team.’ So we’re recognised from the top down as an integral part of that. Which is such a great validation of the work we do.
And do you, I didn’t write this question down just so you know –
I don’t have a written preparation!
I was just thinking about, so my husband works at a Christian school and they have a devotion time in the morning. Do you have that sort of setup? Or do you find that you get up at 4.30 in the morning and do an hour long devotion to start the day?
So what’s interesting is when you have a multi faith staff, devotions look very different. And I find that very challenging.
So it’s not just multi-denominational, it’s actually multi-faith?
Yeah. So yeah, they’re very open to to Christian concepts. But similarly, to be an inclusive team I need to be open to them sharing what’s significant to them.
So for me my time is I follow the daily audio Bible podcast, which reads the Bible in a year. I’m now in my third year of doing that. So I’ll do that in the morning either if I’m going for a walk or exercising at home or sometimes on the drive in to work. So yes, I’ll have my time of bible reading – “reading” in quote and then prayer.
I like that idea, I love that idea.
And do you know, going through the Bible on a daily basis, I’ve tried daily Bible reading and I find it’s so difficult to be consistent long term. But this, for the first time I’ve found something that really works for me. And at the end of the Bible reading Brian, who who does the reading, has been doing it for 13 years and so for him he’s so familiar with the overarching narrative of the bible. So at the end of each reading, you know, we do Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs, he will wrap it up together and draw out elements from each and in the overarching theme. And oh, it’s just glorious.
So can you think off the top of your head what that’s called?
Daily Audio Bible with Brian Hardin.
Alright I’ll put it in the show notes. I’m sure that will be helpful to more than one person.
It is amazing. A friend put put me onto it and it’s been the biggest life gift. And every year on my anniversary of starting, when you get to one of the great Old Testament stores where they walk into battle singing praise songs and when they arrive the two opposing enemies have killed each other, that’s my story, that was the first day I listened, so whenever I hit that story I text her and I say ‘Thank you so much for putting me on to this. Another year’s gone by and I’ve just been so blessed by it.’
Sweet, that is really cool.
When would you say you feel closest to God?
Do you know, this might be bleeding another question into it. But the thing I love most about our faith and our God, which flies in the face of so much of what is misunderstood about Christianity, is that God is at his greatest when he is defeated, dying on a cross. God achieved his greatest achievement in saving humanity in that moment of utter despair, agony, isolation, and surrender, and vulnerability.
So I feel closest to God when I find myself at a low point and I don’t look up to see a God who hovers on a golden throne looking down at me. But when I’m at my lowest point, I look down and see a broken, beaten Jesus. Who looks up at me and he says ‘I get what this is like, Sean. I’ve been here, and I’m here with you. I was here before you landed in this valley, waiting at the bottom of your pit to embrace you in this moment.’ And for me, I get goosebumps even just thinking about it. For me I feel closest to God when I arrive at a point of utter frustration and I look, and God doesn’t just empathise with me. But he was waiting for me at the point of despair to embrace me in that moment.
And even when things are good, for me to be able to reflect and say, to share the mountaintop experiences with God, but to appreciate that this is not God at God’s best. This is God celebrating something great, but God’s greatest achievement wasn’t achieved on a mountaintop, on a throne, on a cloud. It was in the mire, in the bottom of a valley. And God won that for me.
It’s just so hard to wrap our heads around God’s economy. God’s way of doing things is just completely opposite to ours, isn’t it? It’s just incredible. And I’m assuming that’s the one thing that you wish everybody knew?
Yeah, do you know, I wish everybody just had … I wish everybody knew that it’s not what they do, or what they bring to the table that matters, but it’s who they are. And it’s the fact that they are wholly loved, and acceptable in the kernel that exists inside of them apart from whatever they achieve. Whatever we think we bring to the table is so not what makes us loved. And that God reaches out to us. Just the magnitude of His love and his grace before we even accept it. Before we even choose to acknowledge him. That love is there.
And I wish people knew that they don’t have to attain any level of excellence. They just need open their arms and say ‘thank you’. I feel like, you know, you talk about God’s economy, and I hadn’t heard that phrase, but it’s so beautiful because our economy so … inverted compared to God’s economy. And we often superimpose our inverted economy onto God’s economy and miss the point. And even though we get the point intellectually, we miss the point.
And probably for me, that’s the one thing I wish people could get, is that it’s not about what I do and how clever I am. How much I love Jesus. And how loudly I sing those songs and how good I am with the actions with the KAOS kids. That means nothing and it’s not even it’s not even how dedicated I am to Jesus that makes him love me. I am his child and he adores me. No matter how much of a boof-head I am.
Isn’t that amazing? Thank you very much, I’ll go and soak in that for a while now. Thanks so much Sean.
Are we done?
We’re done! That’s it. That’s the whole lot. Unless you’ve got something more you want to say? I can listen all day!
Look, I don’t even know how to wrap up. For me personally, I think probably for me, what I find so hard is so often our faith gets caught up in religiosity and it’s so hard for us to share authentic love without it getting lost in people’s familiarity with Christendom and all of the misunderstandings that they have. So for me my life mission is to present Jesus in a way that doesn’t look like a church product. But my goal in my life, my overarching goal is, how do I share Jesus in a way that people aren’t turned off by it before they have even received it.
I think you doing these sorts of things where we’re able to just share our story and encourage each other to not play the game but to be the person that we’re made to be, I think is wonderful. So good on you, Ruth. And you make a very good cup of tea.
Thank you very much. Excellent. I have had lots of practice there.
Alright, thanks so much.