Spiritual/Pastoral Care

Revd. Warwick Whelan

Gendys Conference, 1996

Reported by Alice Purnell: Unfortunately Father Warwick did not provide a text for this presentation, so I have transcribed what I believe is the essence of his talk.

Warwick began by apologising to the audience who were or had been gender dysphoric, who had had poor experiences of the church, and who had been rejected by their communities or pastoral carers. He was glad that the Gendys Network had a chaplain in Rev. David Horton, and wanted us to know that there were those in the Church who are "on your side".

Warwick has spent 12 years in the Health Service and has seen a great many changes in that time. When he started this work there was the old fashioned model of what a chaplain was supposed to do. Now, instead of a chaplaincy there is a multi-faith department, which is to provide for religious, spiritual and pastoral care, in what is now a multiracial society with a variety of beliefs.

This department is to address the needs of the patients, their relatives and loved ones, the staff and students. Religious care has taken a very different path which is now more pragmatic. Warwick does still take sacraments to the bedside and provides small religious services, but the bulk of his work is to address the spiritual as opposed to the religious needs of all these people. It is true to say we all have spiritual needs. What is Spirituality? Warwick defined it as, "that which helps me to feel fully alive," and gives purpose and meaning to life.

He went on to say that what made some people feel fully alive might be a game of football. When we go deeper, however, we find that when people are faced with illness, or death, or circumstances which make them feel threatened, they need to make sense of their lives. Each of us has a personal story and needs to know that our life means something and to make sense of our experiences. Some of us find this is possible through a personal faith, some through a relationship, our work or creativity.

He mentioned a client he had, who is a young person who has started along the road towards reassignment and who has a vision for the future as a woman. She is living with a manipulative father in an abusive relationship, in a dreadful area. She has been spat upon, called names and subjected to physical violence. It is dangerous in that part of London to even appear androgynous. She turned to a particular religious group for help but had all her experience of rejection reinforced by them. She was told that when she died she would not be admitted to heaven because God would not know her by her new female name.

Many people find it difficult to pull out of their situation. Among gender dysphoric people self-esteem is often very low, and guilt is a major barrier towards peace of mind. We all grew up in a society where we are rewarded for doing what we "should" do and being who we "should" be. How often we hear even a parent express their love conditionally and attribute approval only if we achieve what we are expected to achieve. The result is that being loved can be seen as dependent on meeting the expectations of others. It is important that we know we are all loved and we need to love ourselves. Warwick said, "because I am loved and valued, I have all that I need to go on". It is important that we set a value on a person, simply because of being a person.

Pastoral care is about trying to help people on their journey, seeking to empathise with them. That may mean providing some practical help, like trying to help a client to be re-housed. It is important that a person feels valued. As people and as counsellors we need to communicate unconditional love and respect, that they are OK.

We live in a society where we are interdependent and need each other. Warwick was talking to a woman whose husband after 25 years of marriage had told her that he felt he had to to be a woman to reach his full potential . When asked if she could accept her in this new role, the wife replied "How could I live with the woman who took my husband away?"

It is important that we all try to reach our potential, and to become truly ourselves, but we also need to be aware of those around us who are affected by our gender dysphoria.

Whelan, Revd. W., (1998), Spiritual/Pastoral Care, GENDYS '98, The Fifth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
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