Don Pilgrim recently retired after eight years as the chaplain at WesleyCare. He reflects on his time in the role and how it changed since he first started.
Entering Christian ministry was not Don's first vocation upon completing school. Having left Hagley High, Don initially worked as a horticultural apprentice in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. While there he felt called to be a minister.
Don served for many years as a parish minister before starting at WesleyCare. Over time he saw the chaplain role and his ministry change in response to the needs of residents. "WesleyCare now has a wider age range of people being cared for. This meant I spread my time over several distinct communities within the WesleyCare setting," Don says. "Having said that, the people dynamics didn't change. People still needed to be supported and given the opportunity to support others."
Being able to provide Christian ministry to older people was very important to Don. He quickly discovered that older people are no different than younger people in that they seek to live life to the full, appropriate to their age and stage. "Some people had never met a chaplain before, or had a fixed idea of who a chaplain is. Christian ministry is important because at its heart it signals that people are important."
Don says that his time as chaplain went very quickly and he enjoyed every minute. It started with the 2011 earthquake and ended with the redevelopment of WesleyCare and a brand new chapel. "Most of the time I would pinch myself and think, "Is this really work?" Don says. "It never felt like work! Even doing the worship roster gave me a chance to get to know a new circle of friends."
Don has some very fond memories of his time as chaplain, in particular the strength and resolve shown by many of the residents he met. "I will remember the countless people who have not let their circumstances dictate who are they or whom they will be. Their challenges are much greater than mine so I found their lives inspirational. They are the true heroes," he says.
As for future plans, travelling overseas is on the cards for Don and his wife Justine. Upon their return to NZ they will keep an open mind as to what to do next.
Jill Van De Geer has been appointed as the new WesleyCare chaplain and will begin her ministry in March.
At its heart, Christian ministry signals that people are important, says out-going WesleyCare chaplain Don Pilgrim.