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Chaplains stories

Our chaplains have strong personal motivations for volunteering as a chaplain at Mildmay Mission Hospital and they generously share them with us here

Ken's Story

"What I have come to realise is that the work Mildmay does is second to nothing with caring and compassion for others who are vulnerable, and weak. The nurses are just special people, patient, and honestly, so kind. Not many - if none could do what they do!"

Kenneth Van Heerden portrait.jpg

It was back in 2016 that I first came into contact with Mildmay hospital at a volunteer exhibition in London. I was looking for homeless volunteer work and I noticed the volunteer site for Mildmay; the HIV /AIDS red ribbon. This made me think of the issues regarding the stigma around HIV/AIDS in South Africa in the 1990s. I recall the difficulty with the workforce in the mines where HIV/AIDS had a huge impact and still does to this day. So out of curiosity, I decided to have a chat with the volunteer coordinator whose name was Dominic at that time. 


Whilst talking to Dominic, what caught my attention, for some reason,  was that HRH Diana had made the first big impact on reducing the stigma of HIV/AIDS by visiting Mildmay, and I recall it being on TV in South Africa. So, as I admired HRH Diana as being a tough, strong and independent individual, I thought why not give it a try and start befriending those who were at Mildmay. So, I started to attend Mildmay on Saturdays, every weekend. It was really just talking to patients, taking them for coffee, or a walk. Getting to know each person individually, seeing how they progressed and how the nurses made them well enough to leave healthy. That’s how it continued until 2020.


When the COVID-19 restrictions came into force, I used to come in twice a week to work in the kitchen with Obie, where great food and laughter were had. Then I met Sister Bernie, and for some unknown reason not of this world I joined her Chaplaincy team. 


What I have come to realise is that the work Mildmay does is second to nothing with caring and compassion for others who are vulnerable, and weak. The nurses are just special people, patient, and honestly, so kind. Not many - if none could do what they do!


The chaplaincy team is extraordinary, as it is Christian-based and the Chaplains under Sister Bernie are always there for anyone at Mildmay. Mildmay not only helps those with HIV/AIDS but those who are homeless and require rehabilitation care. So it takes special human beings to work at Mildmay. Mildmay is still the best charitable hospital in the EU for HIV/AIDS rehabilitation, and now its work continues with the homeless.


Still enjoying Mildmay and long will it continue.

May 2022

Vicki and John Rawding.jpeg

Vicki's Story


My memories of Mildmay go back over 70 years to when, as a child, I went up in St John's Church Hall to receive my Sunday School prize. I tripped on the way and cut open my lip, and the vicar, Revd Claude Daintree, took me to the Mildmay Mission Hospital where it was stitched up. I was later invited to a Mildmay Children's Party as an ex-patient.

Many years before this, my mother was a patient in Mildmay when the wards would have had Bible texts on the walls.


In later years, my husband and I took an interest in the work of Mildmay and attended events and meetings run by the Friends of Mildmay. We met Dr Ruth Simms, Veronica Moss and Helen Taylor Thompson.


We began to pray for Mildmay on a regular basis, continuing to this day present time.


Around seven years ago I received information advertising a day at Mildmay, and part of the programme was 'Would you consider volunteering at Mildmay'. I said yes, and the rest is history as I was assigned to the Chaplaincy. Sister Bernie inspires me and is now a good friend.


Who would have thought, 70 years ago as a young girl having her cut lip stitched, that I would now be a part of Bernie's team, and receiving the blessings of being part of the Mildmay family?

September 2021

Patrick's Story

"I recall my earliest association with Mildmay Mission Hospital when I was visiting my friends who were being cared for here because they had contracted HIV/AIDS."

Volunteer chaplain, Patrick

For some reason, I always felt that a cautious welcome was extended to visitors. On reflection, I realised that the staff nurses and carers were protecting and shielding their patients. Back then, there was a tremendous stigma attached to this disease. Negative, homophobic comments abounded, including ‘the gay plague’.

My early memories of entering the ward was that those young patients appeared so aged and gaunt, with sunken cheeks and haunted, dark-rimmed eyes. I recall that the wards were bedecked with old-fashioned iron bedsteads, which were nonetheless covered with pristine white sheets and counterpanes.


I first came to London in the 1970s to undertake a Cert. Ed course at Garnett College and subsequently got a job teaching in one of the Central London colleges. My subject area included Food Service, which led eventually to running a training restaurant with around 80 guests a day. In this particular line of work, I came into contact with many people from the gay community, particularly students who were working in the hospitality industry.


At the time, I was living in a shared house with a few others, including one guy who was gay, into leather and doing the rounds of various gay pubs. We eventually entered into an on/off relationship, leading to us buying a flat together. My friend and many others in the gay community were overt in expressing their sexuality but in all honesty, as a practising Catholic, I was very confused. The pastoral approach which is now so compassionate and given with care and understanding, had not yet been developed.


Like so many other churches, generally speaking, the negative attitude to those who were seeking advice and support from their own particular faith group engendered a great deal of hurt and feelings of rejection. However, in spite of the church’s legal approach at the time, there were many non-judgemental individuals who would welcome them and help them to embrace their sexuality.


Eventually, after selling my flat, my friend and I had enough money to buy separate properties. Part of our ongoing social life included visiting gay-friendly pubs and, as a result, our own circle of friends increased and multiplied.


During the AIDS Crisis, a large number of people whom we met and knew well came to need palliative care and ultimately died at Mildmay. Many funerals took place – some of which had few mourners, as undertakers and clergy were reluctant to be involved. There was the additional pain of watching my dear friends dying after a prolonged illness (and related illnesses) which rendered them skeletal and helpless. When my own personal friend died, the impact on his family., including a sister and nieces, was massive, but they did acknowledge him to have been a generous son, brother and uncle.

Many times now, when approaching Mildmay, these thoughts enter my mind and heart. However, they are soon dispelled by the warm welcome on arrival and the greetings and exchanges with patients and staff in the wards and offices. My biggest problem at times is remembering everyone’s names. But no matter, I try to ensure that I extend a ‘hello’ to everyone.


The chapel at Mildmay is a beautiful place to share worship and also a place to reflect. Weather permitting, the Mildmay Garden (including ‘Smoker’s Corner’) is an invaluable outdoor space, so lovely for both patients and staff.

It is so inspiring when the members of the Mildmay chaplaincy team gather for meetings – Zoom ones presently! We come together from our various diverse backgrounds and churches but the thing that ties us together most is our commitment to our beloved Mildmay Mission Hospital."

August 2021

Patrick in the chapel during Covid in 2021

Pauline's story

"I am Pauline and I am one of the volunteer chaplains at Mildmay."

You will find my photo in the Chaplaincy section of the website as I joined the chaplaincy team in 2016 to support Sister Bernie who is the hospital chaplain.

I first knew about Mildmay hospital when my son Paul came here as a patient. He was in Mildmay for over 6 weeks and was very happy there. I used to visit him a couple of times a week and having been made so welcome, I actually enjoyed being there.

Chaplain Pauline and son Paul prior to 2014

After that, Paul left hospital to go home but unfortunately, he died on 14th February 2014. He was only 35. May he continue to rest in God’s peace. Bernie and the Mildmay staff were very supportive and immediately they gave me and my family such a lot of comfort. Bernie came to Paul’s funeral and that so touched me.

After a while, I wanted to thank Mildmay for all the kindness and prayers they showed towards me and to Paul. At Bernie’s invitation, I then joined the chaplaincy team as a volunteer.

I go into the hospital on a monthly basis but of course during this last the last year of the pandemic I have only been back occasionally. As a volunteer, I enter into a loving, caring community where everyone looks after each other. Mildmay Mission hospital is small but complex and I touch into the love that is present all around there. Everyone works towards the clients’ healing and wholeness as each one is considered to be important.  


Whatever their role at Mildmay each person is appreciated for the contribution he or she makes to Mildmay. When I go there the atmosphere is friendly and I feel I am coming home.


Paul’s memory is alive there as he is always mentioned. His name is inserted in the Memorial Book in the chapel. Above all, this is a place of hope, love with an emphasis on the ‘spiritual’ as every person is recognised as such. My wish is for Mildmay Mission Hospital is that it will be there for many years to come. God bless Mildmay!"

July 2021

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