Dr Iain Macritchie: Programme Director for Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care

by | May 12, 2020 | People

(I am re-publishing this article which appeared on the old church website in January 2019. It will accompany a new article reporting on a conversation with Iain about his current, deployed, role at NHS Louisa Jordan in Glasgow)

Our friend Dr Iain Macritchie, formerly Lead Chaplain within NHS Highland, has just become NHS Education for Scotland’s Programme Director for Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care, based at the Health Sciences Building at Raigmore Hospital.

There are 62 whole-time chaplains in Scotland, and 56 part-time chaplains. In his new role, Iain is responsible for ensuring that uniform excellence in chaplaincy across the country is maintained, and that the training provided for chaplains is relevant, and appropriate.

Iain and I met for a chat over lunch, and I asked him what hospital chaplains actually do. Their task, he told me, is to accompany patients (and also their families where appropriate) at a difficult time in their lives – as they come to terms with injury, ill-health, or a terminal condition.

Chaplains will spend time with patients, helping them connect with the core values which shape their lives, helping them, as Iain puts it, ‘to be in touch with, reconnect with, connect with for the first time with matters of fundamental importance to their being and their understanding of who they are.’

Iain describes our inner development in this way:  as we grow up and enter adulthood, we embrace spiritual or faith values which shape our sense of identity and worth. When life gets difficult, as it will, we seek to take refuge in the shelter constructed with these values, but the time will come, as it comes to all of us, when this inner shelter can’t cope with the tsumani of darkness and questioning which life throws at us.

At such a time, it is of immense value to have a trained, empathic person to sit with us, not to tell us what we should believe, but to help us question our own beliefs.  We will either find them deeper and more nurturing than we had previously understood, or else realise that we must rebuild the shelter to include some different wisdom and insights.

The statistics show that access to chaplaincy helps a patient – whatever their beliefs – recover more quickly: the chaplain’s input is part of the healing process.

Iain’s inner shelter, his ‘personal spiritual framework’ is, he tells me ‘hugely Christian, because of my upbringing, and the decision to inhabit that, to make that my own as a teenager, and my on-going decisions to reflect on it, to strengthen it.’

But in a society and a hospital environment where there are people adhering to various religions and people who have no religious persuasion, it is appropriate the chaplains should be drawn from all the major streams of spirituality and faith in Scotland.  For it’s a mistake to describe the NHS as a ‘secular institution,’ he says. There are many voices in the NHS (as in Scotland as a whole) including secular humanism: each of these voices should be listened to with respect. A fundamental requirement of someone seeking to become a chaplain is that they should, as Iain puts it, ‘be rooted and grounded in a faith or a belief stance’ – and that includes humanists.

Being grounded in a belief stance means that a chaplain will have examined their core convictions, begun wrestling with questions of values and meaning, and found a place of shelter. They will have experienced the testing of that place of shelter by the storms of life, and will have learned through that experience to consolidate, or else to adapt. They will be people whose inner journey will help them to stand empathically with those who themselves are pilgrims through times of pain.

Because chaplains do not seek to proselytise, to impose their personal convictions on their patients,  any chaplain can help any patient to understand themselves and their journey better. But a patient who wants to be supported by someone of their own faith tradition can ask for this, and the chaplain will arrange it.

Chaplains aim ‘to do that which we can up to the point where we can’t.’  Iain gave the example of a Roman Catholic patient. As an Episcopal priest, Iain and the patient would be able to do a lot of work together, ‘in terms of being present, and listening, and prayerfully supporting and even offering prayer if that was requested,’ but if the patient asked for Mass, Iain couldn’t offer that, but would enthusiastically arrange for a Roman Catholic priest to do this.

I asked Iain if he was aware of any disquiet among some more evangelical Christians about the fact that chaplains do not share their faith unless the patient requests this.  He admits that some may have ‘less ease’ with the current situation. But he adds, some very good chaplains have an evangelical background, which gives them an enduring ‘experience of God in the midst of life’, nourishing and sustaining them. Add to that a questioning faith, a faith which has been tested through troubles, and you have a very gifted chaplain whose presence exudes ‘warmth and real humanity.’  In fact, Iain adds, ‘the best of evangelicalism is a rich humanity, expressed fundamentally in the deep and genuine humanity of Christ, and then expressed further in the grounded humanity of his followers.’

Finally, I asked Iain for his views on the role of the chaplain in end-of-life care. ‘I see it as an accompanying and walking with,’ he says.  And then he remembers the Chaplain in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. ‘The Chaplain, who accompanies the pilgrims on their way has a specific job to do which is lovely. What he does is he takes, and keeps safe the pilgrims’ sacred objects so that he can offer them back to them at strategic points of the journey.’

‘I love that image of palliative care chaplaincy,’ Iain continues. ‘The journeying with which that involves, and the sacred trust. Again, it’s not me imposing on the individual what I think, but it’s me holding safely and sacredly that which they have entrusted to me, so that I can offer that back to them at various points along the way.’

I remembered Iain praying with my father the morning of the day he died in the Royal Northern Infirmary.  ‘He prayed him into heaven,’ Lorna said.

Leaving Iain, I felt that Chaplaincy in Scotland is in good hands, for he has a sharp mind, a discerning spirit, and a heart of love.

And, in recognition of his giftedness and graciousness,  Episcopal Primus Mark Strange is installing Dr Macritchie on 3rd February at Inverness Cathedral as Hononary Canon of Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy.