'These lovely, caring people brought the light'

It was reflecting on over 20 years of ministry at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital that led Rev David Williams to draft his booklet “Spiritual Care during the Dying and Death of Children”.

The booklet is an honest account of someone who has helped many families during the tragedy of losing a child. It is, David says, “not rocket science”, but it is the distillation of his experience over 20 years involvement in a ministry which leaves so many people struggling desperately to find the right words to say.

That honesty is shown by something that is fundamental to David’s ministry, the admission that despite his deep personal faith,  he simply does not have the answers that families are looking for. He believes that his most effective ministry begins with the honest words   “I don’t know why”. Nevertheless, it’s walking alongside those in their time of need that is so important to him and he believes that “it is a privilege to walk that dark walk with these families”. He talks of many parents who can be left feeling isolated from family and friends simply because people don’t know what to say.

David sees this ministry as being very much a mission field reaching out to those who may never have thought about God previously. He encounters people when they are, understandably, angry, seeing God as vengeful and unfeeling or, at best, uncaring and unaffected by their situation. Of course that is a challenge, but as David says “I talk about the God I know as a God of love; not God who takes little ones from their parents, but God who receives them to make them better when they are just too sick or too tired to carry on.. It is mission in its rawest sense at a time when people’s emotions are heightened beyond any normal comprehension”.

This is where the experience of only having honest answers, or of admitting that he has no answers at all comes in. “Often people who are trying to minister in these situations feel they need to say something to fill the gap. But we all need to realise that not having all the answers is ok. The bereaved need honesty from people of faith, not platitudes”.

By bringing his wisdom and experience to his writing David is able to express some practical ways in which we all can try to minister, not only into the grief over the death of a child, but into many situations of loss and grief we will encounter over the course of our lives. Mixing that with reflections on thinking where God is at this point makes useful reading. And it works.

“What I offer cannot change the situation. It’s important to realise that we cannot make things better. Grief still happens” explains David “but as one mum said to me, ‘we were different people because you were there’. That’s what makes this so important; sowing the seeds of faith, trying to help families to see some light of hope in the awful darkness of grief and despair”.

This is clearly important to Alder Hey. In their new hospital, the chapel occupies a place at the heart of the building. In a place where science is valued above all, staff and families of all faiths and of none can find comfort and strength in the presence of God through the work of the chaplains.

David sees this as a rewarding ministry which, despite inevitable sadness, brings also times of humour and joy, and a very real admiration for the spirit of even very young children, who refuse to let things get them down, and genuine awe at the depth of faith proclaimed by these little ones to whom the kingdom of heaven undoubtedly belongs.

You can get a copy of Spiritual Care during the Dying and Death of Children” by contacting Revdave2019@outlook.com  or 07765 474777