It’s volunteer honorary chaplain Danny Paine-Winnett’s first day at The Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester. He’s been in the building for fewer than two hours and is leading a minute’s silence to remember NHS workers who have lost their lives to Covid – in the pouring rain. “God certainly tests us sometimes,” he says with a smile, looking at the weather.
Danny, like the other volunteer and permanent chaplains in the hospital, is about to embark on a daily tour of the hospital. “My role is to specifically support the staff that work in the hospital,” he says. “I’m here to help staff to unload if they need to – or simply stop for a moment or two to have a quiet moment with me in a busy day. I call it the ministry of loitering. Let’s not forget that it is the staff who are the real story here.”
Danny consulted with his immediate family before taking up the post. “My wife works in adult services and one of my son is an essential worker and the other one is training to be a scientist,” he says. “They understood my reasons for wanting to work here, and were fully supportive. I felt called to do this. Jesus would certainly have been where there was greatest need.”
It’s not just in the hospital that Danny is there for his flock. He’s Minister of North Winchester Community Church which usually congregates in Weeke Community Centre and which is meeting ‘virtually’ for now every Sunday. “A large proportion of my congregation are older people and I’ve been impressed to see how many of them have been able to get online,” he says. “We’ve had more people log on to services than usually attend in person – with two joining us from Australia.”
Working at the hospital allows Danny to put his faith into practice, he says. “I’ve never claimed to have all the answers,” he says. “But I do believe that as a Christian it is my duty to surrender to God’s plan for me.
“If we take a step back from the pain and the suffering, there is a bigger picture. We’re in a time when we’ve rediscovered kindness and reconnected with each other as neighbours and friends. We’ve rediscovered the value of community and there’s been a shift from individualism to focusing on the greater good. I feel both comforted and motivated by that.
“My hope is that when we look back, as well as remembering those we have lost, we will also look at how much we have gained and not go back to life as it was before.
“Where is God? I believe he’s standing alongside those who are sick and grieving and showing himself through acts of unbelievable kindness and selflessness that are being done by so many.”