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Companions in true faith

At the top of the hill overlooking the Chapel at Macquarie Hospital in Ryde, is Sebastian. “Rosemarie! Rosemarie!” he shouts. Rosemarie walks up the hill, takes his arm and helps Sebastian walk to the Chapel. Every passer-by greets Sebastian, drivers beep their horns “Morning Sebastian!” they yell.

Rosemarie has a very gentle disposition, but that is just the soft exterior of a woman with great inner strength who has found her calling. She is the Uniting Mental Health Chaplain for the Northern Sydney Health Area and coordinates the Macquarie Hospital Chaplaincy Department and Volunteer Centre. Rosemarie has been in this role for over eight years.

“My main work is organising cover for the wards in the hospital. It involves running pastoral groups, individual visits, two Chapel Services a week, and conducting funeral and memorial services. I also organise pastoral visits to psychiatric units in the Health Area,” she says.

Rosemarie was a psychiatric nurse many years ago before she married and had a family. She has been a part of the St Ives Uniting Church since 1974.

Sebastian is 56, he has been in and out of institutions since he was 14 years old.

Rosemarie says her work is her outlet for her passion for social justice. “It distresses me to see the treatment of people once they have been diagnosed with a mental illness – how people fear and avoid them. My aim is to dispel misconceptions about people with mental health issues, which is so damaging when people are trying to recover.”

A bundle of enthusiastic energy, Sebastian asked about every detail of the interview process. “Where should I stand for the photo?” But not before making sure everyone was comfortable first. “Do you want a cup of tea? What about a biscuit? Juice? Do you want juice? Rosemarie, can we give them a cup of tea and a biscuit?” He asked, as he paced from the kitchen back to the Chapel.

Sebastian is known as the town crier, he is very sociable and chats to everyone at Macquarie Hospital. His role is an important one during the Chapel services Rosemarie runs; Sebastian announces the last Hymn in the service, blows out the candles and checks everything is in its place once the service is finished. He also works at the hospital coffee shop, loving the responsibility and reward it brings him.

“I want to stress how important Sebastian’s role as ‘Hospital Candle Lighter’ is. When [former Governor of NSW] Marie Bashir attended the Hospital’s 50th Anniversary in 2009, I arranged the Chapel Service so that the residents would be showcased in their various roles and talents. The Governor loved it and described it as ‘ennobling,’” says Rosemarie.

“Providing pastoral support is very important. At the end of each service, I ask all the residents what they want to pray for. And it validates that their ultimate concern is being heard by God,” Rosemarie explains. Sebastian makes sure there are prayers for everyone.

“I pray for my mum (she’s 91), my dad (in heaven), my sister, people in bushfires and the new Pope,” he says.

Rosemarie says, “I love the people I work with, they have no layers. Imagine being in and out of institutions from the age of 14. Sebastian gets up each morning and does what he needs to do. He is so resilient. These people are closer to God than I am – their spirituality is genuine. They are spontaneous and honest. Their care and compassion for each other (and me) is humbling.”

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To find out more about chaplaincy, volunteering or any of our other programs, call us on 1800 864 846 or email ask@uniting.org. We'd love to hear from you.