Vlada Rakin joined Martlets in 2021 as spiritual care lead and chaplain. He explains the scope of his role and talks about the many facets of the spiritual and wellbeing work he is involved in.
“My job is really about journeying alongside people, finding out what is deeply important to them and being there to witness that. Whatever beliefs people hold, whether they are religious, spiritual, or non-faith based, I am there to listen. I provide a safe space for them to explore at their own pace. It is such a privilege to provide that for people, particularly for those who are nearing the end of their lives.
When patients and their loved ones are confronted with death and dying, they often have questions which have become more urgent to explore. What meaning does their life have? What do they cherish and remember with joy, and what do they regret? And is this it or might there be something beyond the apparent finality of death?
I visit patients and their loved ones on the inpatient unit and in their homes to offer direct support. I also assess people’s spiritual care needs (by phone) and connect them with whatever support feels right for them. I’m originally from Serbia and was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 2021. I can administer the sacraments of the Christian faith (including last rites and the conducting of funerals), but I am open to connecting with people from all faiths and none. Spirituality means different things to different people. While that might mean religious faith for some and a belief in God, it can be about personal growth; a connection with the natural world; a personal experience of a sacred dimension, or the values by which people live.
I support the wellbeing of staff at Martlets by offering online ‘Be Still’ sessions regularly. And I forge links with other local faith groups and spiritual leaders and can put people in touch with those if need be. I also attend interfaith conferences in the local community so we can all learn from each other.
A Muslim patient asked if I would stay and listen to them recite a reading from the Koran in Arabic. I was able to follow the English translation and it was such a humbling experience.
I come from a hospital chaplaincy background. So, I am used to connecting with people from all walks of life with a diverse range of beliefs. One day I might be administering Christian Communion to a patient in their home, the next I might be chatting with someone on the inpatient unit who practises Paganism. A Pagan patient told me all about the tradition of ‘hand-fasting’. They and their spouse undertook as part of their Pagan wedding ceremony, which was interesting to learn about.
Another patient who had been in the military opened up to me about the trauma of war and of seeing things you don’t want to see; and the uncertainty of what will happen in life. This became a natural route into exploring what was sacred about life for them. We may not have been talking about faith in the obvious way, but we were able to connect about what felt meaningful to them.
I don’t have all the answers to life’s big questions, but what I do have is patience and the presence to sit and listen and to explore together.
Sometimes the work can be challenging because people facing death can feel angry, upset and frustrated. They will ask why life is so unfair and why God let’s bad things happen to people. I don’t always have a clear answer and there are times when accompanying someone in silence is a powerful thing; and offering reassurance by holding their hand (with consent of course). And sometimes I will read to a patient who is non-responsive and unable to engage. I’ll discover what they enjoy from family members or from the items they keep close in their rooms.
Occasionally a patient will feel angry towards me because of how they feel about religion. I had a lovely couple from the LGBTQ community come in. One said, ‘I’m surprised my partner spoke to you because they hate religion and everything it stands for’. But we were able to have a really good conversation. I expressed that I was very sorry for the difficult experience they had had to endure in relation to religion. But that I was willing to be there for them in whatever way felt safe, comfortable and useful. We were able to relate as human beings rather than get caught up in dogma.
Christmas is coming, but it is also important to remember other festivals at his time of year that are all about the importance of light in the darkness.
It’s interesting that so many religions place importance on the bringing of light in the winter months. In October it was Diwali, a festival of lights that is important in Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism; it is associate with hope and the birth of new opportunities.
The Jewish festival of Hannukah is celebrated from 18–26 December which includes the lighting of a Hannukah menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum. Hannukah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple and the miracle of light, dating back to the turbulent second century BCE. At the time, a Temple menorah was lit, and a single-day supply of the ritually pure oil lasted for eight days.
The Winter Solstice on 21 December is when Pagans and Wiccans mark the shortest day before the days begin to lengthen again and the light returns. And of course, the birth of Christ, bringing hope and light to the world, is at the centre of the Christian tradition. It is celebrated on 25 December by Christians who observe the Gregorian calendar, and on 7 January by those Eastern Orthodox Christians who observe the Julian calendar.
However you chose to celebrate this festive season, I wish you moments of peace, joy and reflection with those you love.
If you are interested in the content of this blog, or would like to have chat, please contact Vlada for more information. Email: email@example.com or call 01273 273400 x145.