Chaplain loves new role at Corton House
Thinking outside the box comes naturally to Rhonwen Washford, Chaplain at care home Corton House, thanks to her extraordinary family background. Helen Baldry reports.
Rhonwen’s grandmother was abandoned as a baby on the doorstep of the China Inland Mission in Shanghai. The missionaries took her in and gave her a faith. Rhonwen recalls many elements of different religions in her grandmother's room - Buddha, the Koran, a crucifix – many of these things gave her strength. Rhonwen said: “My grandmother taught me it was the Christians that gave her life. She used to take from each faith but told me that Jesus loves me.” Rhonwen’s grandmother became an amah - a girl employed by a family to clean and be a nursemaid looking after young children. Rhonwen said: "She,was won over a game of cards, the man who won her later went on to marry her, so giving her status in society.”
Rhonwen's father and mother met in a Prisoner of War camp. She said: “They met and fell in love over a tub of hot water in the prison compound, which was used for the internees laundry.”
This dramatic background caused Rhonwen to grow up around sensational stories. She said: “My faith was taught through stories. I love listening.” She describes her family as warm and tenacious – they had an openness that was unconventional for suburban Surrey. Family life in England was noisy; a house full of relatives and long mahjong games, with children falling asleep under the table.
Hospitality is big in the Eastern culture, and Rhonwen learnt to apply her faith to her culture and embraces the concept of relating to every person you meet as Christ.
Rhonwen’s faith developed from an early age when she took herself off to a Sunday school run by two sedate Church of England ladies. "I was so naughty and excitable. How they stuck with me I don't know! But they did and they told me stories about Jesus."
Rhonwen listens to the stories of people living at Corton House in her role as Chaplain, which she took on in January. She said: "My affinity to the elderly is all about stories. My faith was taught through stories. I love listening."
She describes it as a huge privilege to be welcomed into their home and to minister to them. They have regular services, including worship and prayer and she is sensitive to the many traditions and backgrounds of the residents. Rhonwen said: “The services are full of joy. The residents love their hymn singing and pray openly. We discuss deep issues, and most of the residents have been faithful church goers, so know this scriptures.”
Rhonwen also visits people in their own rooms and gives communion.
Rhonwen’s primary vocation was nursing.
She began her nursing training at Barts in 1969, and after marriage and four children, moved to Norfolk where she completed a diploma in nursing in 1999, working at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital, latterly on the renal unit.
Rhonwen completed her theology training at the Eastern Regional Ministry Course (ERMC), where she was a senior student.
She has worked at the Ingham, Sutton and Stalham parish and also at Thorpe St Andrew. She was ordained at Norwich Cathedral in 2008. Rhonwen’s was a self-supporting ministry because she always worked as a nurse. She said: “It requires the same skills to be a nurse and a priest. You have to be person-centred. You have to pay attention to the small details. It's a being, not a doing."
Rhonwen draws upon her own experiences of joy, pain and her unconventional background the way she relates to people. She lost her daughter on New Years Eve, 2018, aged 46, to alcoholism. and her husband died 10 months later. She said: “Someone told me God chooses his weakest to be his ministers. I think there is strength in vulnerability.”Rhonwen describes herself as “a very excitable person” and a scripture she holds close to her heart is “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10. She frequently reminds herself of when Jesus took himself off to a quiet place. “resting in the Lord in prayer is one of the most important things in ministry.”