Pastoral Care in Aged Care Facilities – Rev Jonathan (Jon) Phua

Meaning and purpose through Spirituality


from Luke’s Journal 2020 | Ageing Gracefully | Vol.25 No.3

It is a privilege to spend time with people in Aged Care settings, as the interactions are often so rewarding and meaningful. 

When I was a Pastoral Care Coordinator (Aged Care Chaplain, from 2016-2019) for HammondCare in the residential Aged Care setting of Hammondville, there were many opportunities to serve and help residents there. Hammondville had multiple sections: independent living units (retirement village) and residential aged care, which was divided into low and high level care, and low and high level dementia-specific care.

Pastoral Care adopted a broad model of spirituality: that which gives people meaning and purpose – from where can they can gain some answers to life’s questions? Religion is a subset of this as, naturally, faith in God gives people meaning and purpose. However, people who are not religious can still have other aspects of their lives that give them meaning and purpose – relationships, artistic expression, music, sports, being in natural settings, meditation.1 

This inclusive approach allows Christians to provide care and support to any and everyone in Aged Care. It involves wanting to listen, asking interested questions, and engaging with them wherever they are in their spiritual journey. As most residents were of Anglo-Australian background, a natural question for me to ask was: ‘Are you Catholic or Church of England?’ These two affiliations covered over 90% of people, giving an opportunity to find out about attending Sunday School, Mass, Catholic School in the past. Sometimes people said that they were raised in church, but are not into it: not religious, not church attenders. For one man in our low level Dementia Cottage who was not religious but a past Snooker champion, this meant engaging him with Snooker videos giving him enjoyment with one of his loves, allowing him to express what made it a good part of his life.

Inclusion means including those of other faiths. I once cared for a Muslim man in his late forties, receiving palliative care in high level aged care, as there was no other under-65 facility available for him. He explained that for his faith he read the Koran on his mobile phone. When I asked him and his wife if he would like a visit from the local Imam (Muslim priest from the Mosque), they both declined, as they felt this was not his need. Pastoral care involves linking people with their faith communities if that is important to them, but may not necessarily require this.

Group Activities

A variety of group activities are vital for building friendships, relationships and a sense of belonging. Specifically, chapel services and Bible study group are essential for people’s spiritual growth and relationships. Singing well-known, uplifting hymns such as Amazing Grace, and Blessed Assurance in a group is a reminder of one’s faith, Christian upbringing, and reinforcement of Biblical truth. Singing lifts mood with cognitive benefits as participants make effort to stay in time and tune.2 Hopefully, post-COVID-19 pandemic, singing of all sorts will resume in Aged Care Settings! 

Large-print chapel service outlines with hymns, prayers, Bible readings and sermon messages allow people to read and follow the structures with familiar patterns, without getting lost. I print out my sermon message in full text, so people can follow on with me, and not lose concentration. Set prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, thanksgivings and confessions are meaningful, allowing people to continue or resume faith expressions, even if they have not been in church for years. Holy Communion gives visual, and experiential participation for believers to share in the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. The bread and cup are held up, are consumed, and each part of the service is explained. 

Similarly, Bible study group has the chosen Bible passage, along with discussion questions, in large print for each participant. Discussion arises from basic comprehension and sharing of personal views, without complex exegetical debate, as might happen with young adult university Bible studies! One keen Christian lady with dementia would share her thoughts and though she was all too aware of her memory loss, she was encouraged and affirmed for her faith and wisdom, rather than scolded for any deficits.

Whole facility group activities are conducive for a whole village ethos. It was a great pleasure to be part of a Lawn Bowls group that had men and women from the different Hammondville sections: independent living, aged care and our dementia-specific cottages. Each resident was welcomed and helped to bowl regardless of skill and experience without competitive expectations! Residents enjoyed the outdoors, conversation, and company with it.

In summary, aged care ministry makes a significant difference in people’s lives and is appreciated by residents, staff, and family.

Rev Jonathan (Jon) Phua  
Rev Jonathan Phua is a Sydney Anglican Minister, currently working as Associate Pastor for the Evangelical Free Church of Australia (EFCA at East Lindfield). From 2016-2019, he was a Pastoral Care Coordinator (Aged Care Chaplain) for HammondCare. He is married with two children. 

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  1. This was drawn from the work of Elizabeth MacKinlay in her book: Spiritual Growth and Care in the Fourth Age of Life. Jessica Kingsley Publishers London, 2006. P13,14.