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Christmas in community

Chaplains are the human face of The Salvation Army. As Christmas approaches, e-connect talks to Major Karen Hill about her role as chaplain at The Salvation Army’s Linsell Lodge in South Australia.

e-connect: How do clients interact with you? What do they think your role is?
Major Karen Hill: Our residents are happy to see me; this is an absolutely amazing ministry. They think, correctly, that my role is to care for them and spend time with them. We talk about their issues and their happiness. I am not on a time schedule per se. I happily spend time with them.

e-connect: How do you describe your role?
Karen: It’s a beautiful privilege. I am the only Salvation Army person of any kind here, so I am involved in everything across the board...I try to help across all areas. I support every staff member as well as the residents (supporting staff members actually supports the residents in turn).

e-connect: What expectations does The Salvation Army have of you as a chaplain?
Karen: Not as many as I have of myself [laughs] – that I care for people and give them a chance to grow spiritually. For many of them, this is their last home, and their last years on earth.

e-connect: What do you think God expects of you?
Karen: I get emotional about this, I am touched that God has given me this work. I love it. God expects me to do what I do, but he also prompts me as I go. My husband [Major Graham Hill] can’t believe how excited I am to go to work every day. These residents are amazing people.

e-connect: How important are your listening skills? How have you developed/how do you develop them?
Karen: They are very important, as I am by nature a chatterer. I have people from other nationalities, so I have to listen carefully. I develop my listening skills by valuing people and concentrating.

e-connect: Since you commenced working as a chaplain in January 2011, what has been the hardest situation you have had to work through?
Karen: Structural issues have been challenging. It’s a very difficult role.

e-connect: Do people want to talk about spiritual issues, death and the great questions of life?
Karen: Very few people want to address it straight up, off the cuff. You have to wait on them and pick up on their cues. We use the chapel process to address issues invitationally.

e-connect: What lessons have you been taught by mentors?
Karen: [laughs] The importance of being a genuine Christian. While I am far from perfect, I want to smile and love people. When we smile, people respond to us. I love to initiate conversations, have a chat and practise acts of kindness. What I’ve got I want to give.

e-connect: What lessons have you learnt from clients and colleagues?
Karen: The great value of life. I will never forget sitting with people and listening as they share experiences and wisdom gained over 70, 80 or 90 years of life. I love to look into their eyes. I love my job so much; chaplaincy is so enjoyable. We have a remembrance book to honour those residents who die with us. It has photographs, artwork, and scrapbooking. People have the opportunity to write messages in it. It’s beautiful. We are a family, this is our home, and I am a member of our family. We have beautiful, amazing staff.

e-connect: What do you think will be the hardest aspect of Christmas for the people you get alongside?
Karen: The loneliness and the memories they don’t share. We do a lot with people, but nights can be very lonely for them.

e-connect: What joys will you share with your clients this Christmas?
Karen: First and foremost, the birth of Jesus. I share family stories with my community. My husband pops in sometimes for a cup of tea and a chat. Our daughter, Witney-Bre, comes in and plays the piano for our people here. I take great joy in my family, and I share that joy with my people.