Rotorua Hospital Chaplaincy Trust's major annual fundraiser this coming Friday will be Ray Bloomfield's last breakfast.

Well not exactly the last as in Christ and his disciples' last supper but the last as Rotorua Hospital's interdenominational chaplain, the role he's embraced for the past 26 years.

The breakfast is another in the long list of lasts he's chalking up before his official November 26 retirement day.

Instinct tells Ray the time's come to hang up his vestments, not that he wears them. Ray's not that kind of minister, priest, call him what you will.

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In reality he's an ordained Church of God bishop but in his time at the hospital ministering to patients, their families and staff, he's become all things to all people regardless of creed, belief or religious indifference, an "everyman" kind of guy.

With a personality as large as his impressive frame and an even more gigantic heart, Ray has a God-given gift of being a person's person, someone who moves heaven and earth to get things done. The Queens Service Medal he received a decade ago testifies that.

To share a "for instance": When the government announced it was pulling the plug on hospital chaplaincy funding in the 1990s, Ray kept Rotorua's alive by establishing its unquestionably successful chaplaincy trust.

"I realised we were now dependant on fundraising as well as the contributions from churches to keep chaplaincy afloat, Wellington [government departments] told me in no uncertain terms it would never work, it did and it does."

Much of its success can be sheeted back to Ray's impressive list of community contacts. Need a wedding arranged in record time where an incurable illness is about to terminate one partner's life? Ray waves his wand in the direction of those who can make it a reality fast - and it does.

Such events have become a sadly regular scenario in his chaplain's role with a litany of variations that set the seal on his ability to accomplish the seemingly accomplish able, backed by trust input.

A favourite success story is the Zambian nurse who arrived with only a tattered plastic bag of worldly possessions.

"We got the word out, our staff gave her clothes, raised money so she didn't need a money lender to help bring her child here, all the churches donated, the Catholics gave that kid free education."

Presently being helped is someone dependent on medical marijuana to keep repeated fitting under control. It's under the radar stuff but, he emphasises, legal.

So what do we know of this man who thumbs his nose at bureaucratic naysayers as he's become a lifeline for so many?

He may be a man of the cloth but he's street savvy, he's had guns and knives pulled on him, acid sprayed down his throat, been "bottled" and whipped with chains.

None we hasten to say in his chaplaincy role, but in the years he served his church "apprenticeship" in some of this country's scarily tough towns and cities.

The acid incident came in Napier while he was in mid-sermon.

"A guy I'd counselled about beating his wife turned up with a knife and spray bottles in both hands, as I opened my mouth he sprayed my throat with acid, amazingly there was no major damage."

He's taken his exposure to violence in his giant-sized stride. Walk down a hospital corridor with him and, like Our People, most will be jogging to keep up with the super sized footprint Ray plants. There's not a minute to waste in his job, his life.

Despite his looming retirement, Ray remains passionate about his allotted place in the hospital structure, reiterating that his is a very privileged position to be in.

His introduction to chaplaincy work was when he was invited to stand in for the then part-time chaplain.

It coincided with a period where he was feeling, and we quote him here, "trapped" in his church work.

"After one day at the hospital I went home and said to Pat [his wife of 46 years] 'I've found people with real problems and its great'. I loved it."

To prepare for furthering the role, he completed the required unit in Clinical Pastoral Education, locumed at Waikato Hospital and had applied to become Waikeria's prison chaplain when the Rotorua posting presented itself.

"I became the first stipeneded [paid] hospital Pentecostal chaplain in Australasia, possibly the Southern Hemisphere". He's presently supported by a team of 13 volunteers and the hospital Catholic chaplain Myoko Hammersley (Our People, August 13, 2010.)

"The beauty of being an ecumenical hospital chaplain is that you're free of church politics."

Church a political hot bed, surely not? "Oh brother, let me tell you they're big, here I'm working with such a highly skilled team of health professionals politics don't come into it.

"I'm meeting people daily at their deepest point, that's very rewarding even if they are non-believers. I see patients who say they haven't been near a church for 30 years, I say 'that's fine, I'm here to be your friend'.

"A lot of people have had negative experiences in their church. We [chaplains] can validate their experience and help them reconnect if they want to, we're not allowed to proselytise, convert people.

"Chaplaincy's about building trust not preaching denominational religions, helping people know where they're at and connecting."

With chaplaincy sewn up, we turn to the "other" Ray; the one outside the hospital doors.

The pause that follows our question on that score seems interminable, one of those where we wonder who'll crack first Ray with an answer or us with a prompt.

The response eventually comes with the classic "that's a really interesting question" the traditional stalling by someone playing for time to formulate a cogent response.

As we interpret Ray's delayed answer it's that in and out of chaplaincy he's one and the same person.

Family's paramount and for years he's been a passionate Rotarian, having worn the Rotary Club of Rotorua's president's chain and is a long-serving JP.

"I guess I just love people. On my days off I sit in Capers or the Third Place [cafes] with my book, I don't get much read, I can spend the whole day there talking to people. That's what I love about Rotorua."


RAY BLOOMFIELD QSM JP
Born: Dunedin, 1951
Education: Various primaries (father was in air force); Rutherford College "leaving at 15."
Family: Wife Pat, 3 sons, 2 daughters, 6 grandchildren "Number 7's due next month. Sadly we lost one earlier in the year."
Interests: Family, reading, amateur genealogist, newly retired Rotarian, Hospice, a slew of church-related organisations. "I think there's a book in me, I hope to give that a go."
On chaplain's role: Preachers tell people how to live, chaplains help people to live with who they are."
Personal philosophy: "God loves us as we are not as we should be, none of us are as we should be."