I asked the BaptistCare chaplaincy managers who I could interview for a story, and Donald Watson was described to me as “one of our most outstanding chaplains”. So, let’s meet him!
Donald (Don) Watson is the Chaplain at The Forensic Hospital – a facility for mentally ill patients who have been in contact with the criminal justice system (and for high-risk civil patients), serving about 125 patients at a time. As Chaplain, Don runs multiple chapel services each week, has individual sessions, often including communion, with anyone who is too unwell to attend a service, and makes bibles, devotionals etc. available. He also attends patient tribunals each week (where patients meet with decision-makers to review how they’re going) as patients can get quite anxious about them and request his support, and is someone the staff can turn to when knowledge of religion is required (such as when diagnosing if a patient’s religious beliefs are “normal” or “delusional”).
Donald also offers pastoral care so, if something happens to someone (a family member dies, a sickness hits, or they’re just having a bad run), Don tries to be there! “We [chaplains] are a bit like the police; we show up when life is crap,” he says. But despite the tragic circumstances – running memorial services, talking to patients’ family members about their struggles – Donald says, “It’s beautiful to be able to share that sacred time with people.” That’s why, when he doesn’t have anything organised, he hangs out in the wards and plays cards or Scrabble with patients. “It’s called ‘loitering with intent’, which is just going and building relationships – so that if something does happen, then they already know who I am and that I can be a positive influence,” he explains.
Donald has worked at the hospital for four years, and a pivotal moment conveniently came when he first started. “There was a bible study group that asked me to come along. The first story was the parable of the guy who prepares the big wedding feast, but his friends aren’t interested in coming, so he goes and gets all the people from the outside (the disabled, etc.). When I asked one guy what his thoughts were, he sat up and said, ‘Gee, that’s really good news, isn’t it?!’ It just struck me how these people know where they stand in society; they are not the rich and famous – they have lost in life. But the gospel is for people who are undeserving, and it’s good news for them. That’s a memory that just stays with me and has made all the difference!”
And many patients have tasted the goodness of the gospel, with between one quarter and one-third of them attending one of Don’s chapel services each week. In fact, the vast majority of the patients respect and appreciate what he does – even those that don’t “believe” will still talk with him about things that are troubling them. And Don has seen many people’s lives be transformed by the gospel. Treatment in the hospital is effective, but Don says: “It seems to me that engaging with the gospel also helps people find healing and progress.”
Doctors in the hospital have differing views on the role of spirituality; “Some of them ask my advice and really understand that people are spiritual beings,” Don says. “One doctor insisted that I come to his meetings so he could find out more about his patients, and one of the nurse unit managers said that he could always tell the days that I had been on ward by how calm and settled particular patients were when he started his afternoon shift!”
We thank God for Don (and all the other BaptistCare civil chaplains who support people in hospitals, prisons and other community settings)!
// Don’s prayer requests:
- Praise God for the Pastoral Care pastor at the Baptist Association and for BaptistCare, who do a great job supporting me.
- Pray that I will be able to pray effectively for patients as they seek wholeness in their mind, body & Spirit.
- Listening to people’s traumatic stories is very painful and difficult sometimes. Pray that I will be able to leave the difficult days at work and come home and be refreshed and be there for my family and four kids.
- I want to be able to do this for a reasonable amount of time, but am aware that it can be a draining job. Pray that I can build into my life practices that allow me to be strong.
- Pray for positive relationships with the hospital staff, as my job is contingent on being able to get on with them.
- Pray that the good news would make a difference in me so that I can share that with others.