Bob Dawson has been humbled, saddened and uplifted by his experiences with patients, families and staff during the 15 years he's been volunteering as an assistant chaplain at Waikato Hospital.

Kindly and soft-spoken, Bob says no two experiences are the same for a chaplain. But he considers every interaction with patients and their families a privilege.

"We are there on the patients' terms. We aren't there to preach. We are just there to be supportive, to figuratively hold people's hands." Or literally, when need be.

Waikato Hospital has four full-time and three part-time chaplains and 24 assistant chaplains. This number will be boosted to over 30 with several new chaplains in training. However, that training comes at a cost.


The emphasis is now on having chaplaincy services available to all patients, families and staff, regardless of faith.

This has put pressure on the Waikato Healthcare Chaplaincy Committee Charitable Trust - the fundraising arm of the Waikato Hospital Chaplaincy Department - to raise the necessary funds to continue to train enough assistant chaplains to satisfy demand.

Trust secretary and chaplaincy administrator Louise Shergold-Baker said chaplains at Waikato and Thames hospitals saw 28,000 patients every year - and those were "significant conversations, not just a quick hello".

Training for chaplains is ongoing and covers a wide range of areas. Louise said chaplains spent about 20 hours in training before they saw patients on their own.

They attend monthly supervision groups, training nights four times a year and regional meetings three times a year. Because of the immensely varied and often traumatic situations chaplains handle, Louise said it was imperative their training and learning was on-going.

Chaplains provide spiritual care, understanding and support for patients, relatives and hospital staff. That care can take the form of counselling, advocacy, spiritual support, respect, prayer, anointing and non-denominational services.

Louise said fundraising was an ongoing effort for the trust and donations were gratefully accepted.

To find out more about the service, or to make a donation, phone Louise 839-8899 extn 98441 or email