Being There, Virtually Being There, Being Absent
Chaplaincy in Social Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Keywords:phenomenology, chaplaincy, presence, encounter, COVID-19, care homes, social distancing, virtual communication
The term “being” has featured frequently in publications about the role of chaplains in health and social care. Generally, this has described the physical presence of chaplains among people either during routine pastoral encounters or at critical moments in their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to differentiated practices for chaplains in the UK’s largest charitable care provider for older people. Some chaplains continued to be present in residential care facilities; some provided at-distance support; and some were absent, both physically and virtually. This article begins by discussing the significance of “being” in the context of chaplaincy. It goes on to offer examples of analysis, drawing on chaplaincy experience during the pandemic based on six interviews conducted in the final week of May 2020. From these interviews, an evaluation is made of chaplaincy during the crisis as: being present; virtually being present; and being absent. It is noted that questions about the chaplain’s location in a crisis are not unprecedented. A discussion of pastoral care during the pandemic suggests that presence and in-person encounter remain key aspects of being, and that recent experience has clarified the importance of embodied support for those who are suffering. However, it is also noted that under certain conditions a virtual pastoral encounter has value, can convey impact, and is of consequence.
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