He started life as Robert Edwards but the many and varied strands of identity that make up all our lives has led Matthew Best, also known as Matiu, to exactly where he believes he should be – a chaplain at Tauranga Hospital.
Matiu's birth mother was Ruth Edwards, a young unmarried Māori, probably from the Kaikohe area. Did Robert, the name she chose for him, have a link to his biological heritage? He may never know but is forever grateful for what happened next.
"I was blessed to be adopted from the Bethany Home in Auckland by two wonderful, loving Pākehā parents who farmed at Pāpāmoa, Marjorie and Clem, and they renamed me Matthew Best."
The restyling of his adoptive name came through Maungatapu's historic All Saints Church when he was working with the Tauranga Moana Māori Mission.
Matiu – still Matthew to his wife Yvonne – says being Māori raised as Pākehā allows him to "walk in all areas".
"My parents were open with me that I was Māori," Matiu says, "but it's only been through the church that I've learned tikanga Māori. I don't speak te reo fluently but have learned some language over the years and continue to learn."
He joined the health system in 1975, working as an orderly at Tokoroa Hospital, before qualifying a registered nurse and working at Tauranga Hospital for 21 years.
He, Yvonne and a business partner set up Althorp Private Hospital in 2000, later selling to Radius. However, in 2003 Matiu stepped away and became a bus driver, mostly between Tauranga and Taupō – and winning an Australasian customer service award – while studying for the Anglican ministry.
When All Saints was handed back to Te Manawa o te Wheke (the Māori Anglican Diocese) in 2016, Matiu, who had been a lay minister there for 10 years, had the chance to stay or move to Holy Trinity. When he chose to stay, he was asked to consider being ordained.
"I needed to think about it, but in my heart I knew God was calling me."
In fact, he says, he had felt a calling to the ministry from when he was nursing but is pleased he took so long to reach ordination, believing his life experiences make him a better minister.
Matiu re-joined Tauranga Hospital as a chaplain, in 2018. "It was like coming home," he says. The same year he also became chaplain for the Mission to Seafarers at the Port of Tauranga.
"I always say that a chaplain loiters with intent," Matiu says.
"A smile or a nod might be enough, people get to know you. We're not here to preach or convert, but to listen with compassion and empathy. Most of the time I don't wear my religious collar because it hinders people – they think I'm coming to preach to them. You see the newspaper go up or the sudden interest in their iPad."
Hospital chaplains are available 24/7, with the paid chaplains, Matiu and Shelley Gilmore, take turns on call from 5pm Thursday to 8am Monday, including a service in the hospital chapel every Sunday - performed online during lockdown.
Their wages are paid by an inter-faith fund, not the health board, and they have the support of several volunteers, including locum Wendy Showan, who was a hospital chaplain when Matiu was nursing in Tauranga. They are an ecumenical team, meaning that no one Christian faith is to the fore.
The chaplains offer pastoral care to 3500 people – patients and staff (all staff visits are confidential) – and they also bless new buildings and rooms where people have died.
"Patients and staff sometimes say they see things at night," Matiu says.
"So it's policy to have a blessing with a karakia and water for cleansing, acknowledging the one who has passed, their grieving family, their visitors and the medical team."
The patient's notes, as a living document, are also blessed.
Chaplains attend moments of trauma and end-of-life only if invited to do so by family or medical staff.
"We're dealing with the very unwell and sick, we're dealing with loss - and our hearts always sink when we're called to the delivery suite.
"We don't mention God or offer a prayer unless invited. We're just there as support and to be part of the journey.
"I don't always have the words and I certainly don't have all the answers."
Matiu Best appears in Dying for a Good Talk at the Escape! festival at 9.30am on October 18 with Greg Brownless and Dr Andrew Corin. Tickets are $20 from Baycourt box office or taurangafestival.co.nz.
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