Our Blog

What does a children’s hospice chaplain do?

By Chris Gercke, Chaplain and Pastoral Lead of Chestnut Tree House

Learning that your child has a life-limiting illness can be a huge shock and may bring to the surface all sorts of deep questions. My role as chaplain and pastoral lead is to offer a space for people to ask those questions.

At Chestnut Tree House, we want to honour the whole person, and that includes supporting their spiritual needs too. This may relate to how a child or parent find meaning, hope, love and purpose, or the different ways they experience connectedness, whether that to be to self, others, nature or the sacred. It doesn’t necessarily relate to religion, although for some this may be an important part of their spirituality. Finding that out helps us to discover who they are and the best ways for the team to help them.

Exploring the big questions

As part of their spirituality, some people may want to explore questions around religious faith, and I can help with that. Equally, if they would like to speak to a particular faith leader, I can help facilitate that.

At Chestnut Tree House, we may journey with a family for a number of years. That gives us the opportunity to get to know the family in greater depth, finding out how they make meaning and what gives them purpose. My hope is that this depth of relationship and understanding allows us to better honour what is right for them throughout our care and how we honour their spirituality at the end of life.

Of course, the sad days are hard – but alongside them there are lots of days that are full of joy and laughter. I enjoy getting involved with whatever is happening at the House and chatting with people when they’re here.

Have a look at the types of fun and activities that we get up to at the House.

With the end in mind

A big part of my role is the end of life and supporting families through bereavement, but we are very much led by the child and family. Some families might want to have a naming ceremony for their baby, for example. Part of my role in supporting a family might be very practical, helping with funeral arrangements and choosing music and readings. If they’d like me to, I can also officiate the funeral as a Christian minister, but if that is not appropriate for them, I am here to walk alongside them in their grief and provide a listening ear.

We have a bereavement suite, called Stars, available at the hospice – find out more about our full bereavement support here. 

It is a huge privilege to journey with our hospice families. It is an honour to become part of their family’s story. At Chestnut Tree House, all life is here – the sadness, the beauty and the joys. And in amongst that, you bear witness to love. That love is the golden thread that runs through it all and that, along with my faith, is what helps and supports me in my role.

If you’re looking for support

If your family is under the care of Chestnut Tree House and you’d like to speak with Chris, ask your key worker to put you in touch.

If you’re not currently a family under our care, but think you might be eligible for hospice support – have a look at our referral information.