The Reverend Canon Michael Carter became the first Chaplain at Peace Hospice Care in 1999. Upon his retirement in 2014, he had served for over 20 years. Prior to this, he worked for 15 years as the Chaplain at Watford General Hospital.
Brought up in the Free Church, he wasn’t ordained into the Church of England until he was in his Fifties, but had first gained an appreciation of the work of nurses as a much younger man, first during National Service in Kenya and then as a Colonial officer in Uganda, where he met the nurse who was to be his wife. “They renew my faith in human nature”, he said.
Back in the United Kingdom, married with a daughter and a son, he worked in senior positions for many years with a non-profit holiday company until, in 1982, he began to consider a new vocation. He undertook a Church of England course in St Albans for people training for the Ministry. He took early retirement with a pension which enabled him to decline paid employment and was then able to develop an evident ability to offer comfort to sick people, first with mental health patients at Leavesden Hospital and then as a Chaplain at Watford General Hospital.
Soon the need for a Hospice demanded attention, but many difficulties had to be overcome before the ambition was realised. Finally the Peace Memorial Hospital, derelict and occupied by “down and outs” for 10 years, was secured for £1.00 by the West Herts Hospice Charity, on the understanding that it would eventually be refurbished at a cost of three million pounds.
He took on the role of volunteer Chaplain at the Hospice in 1994. In the temporary Day Centre at the Hospice a receptionist would often loan the corner of her desk for Michael to offer Communion to a patient. After five years of overlapping roles, he retired from Watford General to dedicate himself to his role at the Hospice.
Listen to Reverend Michael Carter talk about his role as Chaplain of Peace Hospice Care.
Michael Carter felt there was “no blueprint” for working with dying people, although a poem provided useful advice: “Don’t walk before me, I may not want to follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not want to lead. But if you walk beside me, then maybe we will be friends”.
He placed great importance on physical contact. He recalled how a father, sitting at his son’s bedside, was initially angry at the sight of his “dog-collar, berating Michael as “having nothing in common” with him, until the Chaplain said he, like the other man, had an 18-year-old son. “The next moment I had him in my arms”.
Reverend Michael said he had met many patients memorable for their courage and fortitude whose response to care had been “wonderful”. He is an advocate for hospices, with their “brilliant” palliative care, the skill of their doctors and nurses who are so caring.