Volunteer Profile: the ministry of presence with Jan Rooke

Volunteer Profile: the ministry of presence with Jan Rooke

Jan Rooke

Jan volunteers at a rest home facility in Wakefield as a chaplain.

Volunteer Profile: the ministry of presence with Jan Rooke

a woman cares for an elderly person
As part of our series honouring volunteers across the diocese, we asked Jan to speak about her care and compassion for the elderly as a rest home chaplain.

Three years ago, I was close to retiring age and had reached the point in my life when I felt I could slow down and start concentrating on fulfilling some of the dreams that had been shelved during my working life.

It took me a while to remember what they were.  

In my younger years I worked as a psychiatric nurse. I loved working on the geriatric wards, caring for the elderly and those in various stages of dementia. I always thought I’d return to that sort of work, but, as is often the case, life got in the way.

After much prayer I felt led by God to do a Christian leadership course at Bishopdale College. While I was loving it, I wasn’t sure where it was leading. I had no interest in being ordained and I’ve never felt I wanted to work with groups of people, much preferring one-on-one interactions.

Eventually the penny dropped, and at the end of my first semester at Bishopdale I decided to investigate the possibility of rest home chaplaincy. My tutor was rather bemused as there was no formal rest home chaplaincy training or organisation at the time. God stepped in and only three days later I received a newsletter from my church with an article about a new initiative putting volunteer chaplains in rest home! It was exactly what I was looking for.

God has been leading me on an amazing adventure since the beginning of 2020, opening doors I never could. Before starting at Bishopdale I was worried I didn’t have what was needed for full time study – the intelligence, stamina and energy, memory retention or finances. I felt as if I was stepping off a cliff into thin air with nothing but faith to stop me falling. God has been building a bridge, under my feet, step by step, ever since. 

Now, six months after starting to work as a volunteer chaplain at the Homestead in Wakefield, I’m reminded weekly of how blessed I am to be in this role. I am privileged to be able to be there with the residents. I’d always wished for more time to connect with patients when I was nursing, and now that’s the focus of my role. As a chaplain, I get to build relationships with the residents, learn about their fears and worries, listen to their life stories, and gush at photos of their grandchildren. Elderly people in rest homes often have amazing stories of hardship and resilience as well as memories of better days and heroic adventures.

The ministry of a chaplain is one of presence, being there and holding a space for God to his work. In connecting with the residents I can bring hope and share the love of Christ.

One of the common experiences that residents grapple with is loss and grief. Loss of home, independence, choices, community, health or even mental faculties. Residents can be angry, disorientated and depressed. My role is to take the time to sit with them and listen, showing them that they are not alone, and that God is there with them in everything they do and loves them. 

For those open to it, I share our hope of salvation through Jesus and pray with them. But I also spend time with anyone that is willing to talk to me, regardless of their faith or lack of it. I meet them where they are, not where I think they should be. I’ve visited residents who are quite anti-Christian and defensive when I first stop by to talk to them until I convince them I am not there to convert or push my views. After a while and with many brief visits making small talk and listening to their stories, some have now started to ask what I believe or what Christianity is about, opening the door to deeper conversations.

If anyone is curious and would like to find out more about volunteer rest home chaplaincy, I would urge you to contact Atje Faber. It is truly rewarding to share God's love, while learning and growing closer to God and to other people. The volunteer rest home chaplains are a wonderful, caring, supportive group of people that I am proud to call my friends and colleagues, and we’re always looking for others to join us.

Check out other articles in the

Lay Legends

series below.

More articles in the

Lay Legends

series are to come.

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We have invited these writers to share their experiences, ideas and opinions in the hope that these will provoke thought, challenge you to go deeper and inspire you to put your faith into action. These articles should not be taken as the official view of the Nelson Diocese on any particular matter.