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My Second Career
life's experiences challenged the direction of my life
Uniting Church Chaplain Royal North Shore Hospital
Julie Telfer is the Uniting Church Chaplain and Chaplain Co-ordinator at Royal North Shore Hospital at St Leonards NSW.
Julie has achieved these positions after many years of study and work but, as Julie is the first to admit, also with the helping hand of God.
Former hairdresser and salon owner in Erina on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Julie overcame a number of hurdles to achieve a successful business where clients not only came to obtain a ‘cut and colour’ but also to be a part of a small and nurturing community where life processes such as marriage, births, and deaths were part of the communal life of staff and clients.
When her mother became hospitalised with Parkinson’s disease, Julie would visit her but then also found that there were other patients who were lonely and without visitors. Julie started to visit them as well, keeping them company and providing a salve for their fears and loneliness. After her mother’s death, Julie wanted to continue in a role in which she could minister to patients in the hospital and that became the seed that would grow, over a period of fourteen years, to the blossoming tree that represents Julie’s charter as RNSH chaplain today.
Julie’s training in chaplaincy began slowly, with a 40 hour training programme, after which she felt that this was really a ‘calling’ and then a 20 week programme in which she was able to attend patients at their bedsides and, just as she did as a hairdresser, listen to them as they expressed their concerns, fears and feelings.
The completion of another 400 hour training programme saw Julie appointed as Ward Chaplain at Gosford. In this role she would visit all patients, regardless of religious affiliation. All wanted to share their stories but Julie felt that she lacked the theological background that may have assisted her to talk through patient’s concerns and bigger questions with them.
The Uniting Theological College was Julie’s next foray into education with a Bachelor of Theology commenced … and completed after almost seven years! During this time, Julie sold her salon and continued to volunteer at Gosford Hospital. She undertook a Certificate IV in Pastoral Counselling.
An ad for a part time chaplain at RSNH caught Julie’s attention and before she knew it she was appointed, later expanding the role to three then four days per week. The position is funded partly through Uniting Care and partly through the State Government.
Julie sees her role as one in which she is privileged to spend time with the patients who seek solace in her presence. Her initial questions ‘Would you mind if I sit with you for a while?’ allows the patient to provide their permission for Julie to come into their space and share it. Mostly Julie ministers to Uniting Church patients but is willing and able to visit with others as required. Patients often ask Julie to lead a prayer for them or their relative but more often than not the patients are just looking to Julie to listen to their fears or hopes or to help them work through their deeper questions, especially for those who are in the last phases of their life on this earth. ‘Where is God?’ is a question that Julie hears frequently, especially from the parents of young patients who are suffering from serious diseases or conditions.
Hospital staff, too, often seeks Julie to provide support when they ‘offload’ after a particularly trying day and they may be distressed by situations which present themselves.