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‘Constantly be curious’: Rev. Bob Bond reflects on a career as Niagara Health chaplain

Posted Mar 4th, 2024

We are Niagara Health is a series of stories that celebrates the incredible people working and volunteering in our organization and how they make a difference in the lives of patients and coworkers every day.

Rev. Bob Bond retired from Niagara Health on Feb. 29, 2024

Rev. Bob Bond, Spiritual and Religious Care Manager at Niagara Health, retired Feb. 29 after 33 years as hospital chaplain. 

When Rev. Bob Bond embarked on a career in physics, he was determined to make his life’s work matter.

That didn’t change when science’s sister, religion, began courting him soon after, convincing him to carve a new path that would lead to his role as Spiritual and Religious Care Manager at Niagara Health.

Rev. Bob retired from that role, which he has held since 1990, on Feb. 29.

Before that, there was his dream job with Bell Northern Research in Ottawa as a newly minted honours science graduate from the University of Waterloo. Outside of the lab, Bob was introduced to a church community by a friend. He joined the choir, went on to lead the youth group, and concluded he’d found his purpose and place.

“Relationships and commitments in that community grew to be more significant and meaningful to me than my work in the lab,” Rev. Bob says. “Through all of this, I was evolving philosophically and theologically.”

Two years after starting at Bell Northern, he and his wife, Lynn, packed up for Hamilton, where Bob spent the next three years earning his Master of Divinity at McMaster Divinity College, after which he was called as the minister of Selkirk Baptist Church, a faith community he led for six years.

It was there that a colleague alerted him to an opening for chaplain at the Welland Hospital. He had the work experience required by his denomination for the role, but not the clinical pastoral training. With a leap of faith, he applied anyway. He got the job plus the hospital’s support to pursue certification from the Canadian Association for Pastoral Education.

“What was wonderful about this ‘falling into chaplaincy’ was that it aligned with what was most important to me in my congregational ministry back in Selkirk; namely, pastoral care for people experiencing great challenges in their lives,” Rev. Bob says. “In the hospital, whether working with patients and families or with employees and volunteers, this was now my job to do.”

“What was wonderful about this ‘falling into chaplaincy’ was that it aligned with what was most important to me in my congregational ministry back in Selkirk; namely, pastoral care for people experiencing great challenges in their lives. In the hospital, whether working with patients and families or with employees and volunteers, this was now my job to do.”

Through Rev. Bob’s leadership, Niagara Health’s Spiritual Care department grew to include full- and part-time staff who nurture and support patients, their families and hospital staff from any faith community or none at all. He also left an indelible mark on hospital operations by spearheading the implementation of Code Lavender, an emergency code to respond to staff distress.

In 2018, he was recognized with the Verda Rochon Award for Distinguished Service by the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care. More recently, he was presented the Excellence in Practice - Lifetime Achievement Award at Niagara Health’s 2023 Interprofessional Practice Awards.

Rev. Bob reflects on his tenure as a spiritual leader in healthcare and looks ahead to what’s next.

Looking back, what are some of your fondest memories?

My fondest memories are with patients and staff who have had ‘Aha!’ moments in their work with me.

What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome?

The biggest challenge has been to open up – for NH staff at all levels – an understanding of the full scope of practice of Spiritual Care. Most people come with a mere caricature of us as the death people, who are called upon when a patient has died. This is a possible and meaningful thing to do, but it misses the professional mark. We are psycho-spiritual specialists, who engage people whose world, or some part of it, is shattering or already shattered, working with their meanings and meaning-discovery towards new integration. We are life people, even when called upon as death people.

What are your proudest career achievements?

I am glad for the privilege of attending to so many lives as a healer – a practitioner focused on the meaning-making that is demanded by the complexity they were living at the moment.

I am proud of the Spiritual Care Department which has been ‘put together’ over the years and, most significantly, of its talented full-time and casual part-time staff.

I am both grateful and humbled as the recipient of this year’s NH Excellence in Professional Practice – Lifetime Achievement Award.

Alongside employment at Welland County General Hospital and Niagara Health, I have had the opportunity to lead in a number of community initiatives that have had important impact -- Out of the Cold, Harvest Kitchen, Hope House, and Cordage Green. For 12 years, NH supported me teaching the Professional Competence curriculum at McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine – Niagara Regional Campus.

As well, I was privileged to lead the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care’s work, and also a broader alliance of professional associations’ work, through the years of consultation processes leading to the establishment of the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO).

What advice do you have for someone just starting or considering a career in spiritual care?

First of all, be deeply engaged in your own spirituality and its practices; also be in – or find for yourself – a faith community that both enriches you and holds you accountable.

Second, address your own faith using the critical apparatus afforded by the social sciences so that your world view is ongoingly deepened and broadened.

Third, take your clinical training with expectation of, and openness to, challenge, discovery and significant growth.

Fourth, expect that at some time, and for some period, you will engage in the work of our professional association (CASC), be it at the regional or national level.

Fifth, constantly be curious.  Never stop learning – reading, continuing education – reflection-upon-practice, and your own therapeutic process.

What’s next for you?

My retirement came not as intended, occasioned by severe sickness and an ongoing recovery process. I first need to keep attending to healing. Within and beyond that focus come my family, my faith community, and my discovery of how, next, to live out my calling.

Niagara Health System