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Coffee Break with Reverend Derek Johnston

25th October 2021

Rev Derek Johnston
Coffee Break with Rev. Derek Johnston, Lead Chaplin

Q.1 – What do you do and why do you do it?

I am Lead Chaplain in Belfast Trust and also part of the Chaplaincy team in RVH. I became a part time chaplain in 1999 when I was minister of a local Church. In 2004, the opportunity opened for a full-time appointment as the Royal Hospitals Coordinating Chaplain; then as Trust Lead Chaplain in 2008.

I feel a strong sense of calling to care for people and support people who are fragile or vulnerable or just need someone to chat with. That includes patients, families and staff. I consider it a very privileged position and I gain so much from the people I meet. I am also part of a wonderful team of colleagues.

Q.2 – How does everyone benefit from what you do?

As Chaplains, we encounter many people from varieties of backgrounds and faiths. Very few ever turn us away or refuse the opportunity to talk. Yes, some will state clearly they are not particularly religious but will still engage. Many express their appreciation of our support and welcome us to call again. It is also an immense privilege to share with someone in their heartaches, frustrations and hopes and, where appropriate, to offer prayer or sacraments. During times of illness & crisis, people may find their spiritual needs increase. Often ill patients and their families get strength and hope from their religious and/or spiritual beliefs.  These things can make a huge difference to the person.

Chaplains are available on the acute sites 24/7 and can be contacted through Switchboard, who hold the rotas for core hours and out-of-hours service.

One of the multidisciplinary programmes I have been involved with since its inception in 2009 is Here4U, which helps to run a wide range of health & wellbeing activities for staff, such as pilates, yoga, boxing, football, arts & crafts, choir, CPR, guitar, sign language and Zumba. Whilst Covid curtailed some activities, it has been great to still be able to offer some online activities alongside outdoor activities. This has helped to break down barriers, build friendships, boost morale, aid mental health and increase physical fitness.

Q.3 – Tell us about a typical day at work?

My typical day at work often has more to do than I have time to fit in. Most days start with tea/coffee with some colleagues. We try to promote a close team, which also gives opportunity for mutual support and learning. As head of a department that is spread across the Trust I probably spend approx. half my time in the office. Then there are meetings such as with colleagues on different sites or Trust multidisciplinary meetings, e.g. Bereavement Forum, Organ Donation group, Palliative & End of Life group, Charitable funds group, Trust mediation, Here4U, training events, etc… I also try most days to do some patient calls in RVH since that is part of my call to ministry and something I enjoy, even though it can be challenging.

Q.4. – If someone was sitting with you right now what is the best piece of advice you could give them?

God cares. We are here for you. You matter. Don’t try to cope alone. Look after yourself. Support each other.

 Q.5. – Tell us about the satisfaction you get from your job?

While most days I go home tired, I thank God before leaving my office for the privileges, opportunities and challenges I have had that day. I also acknowledge where I haven’t got things right or could have done things better or differently. I can’t forget the people or situations I have faced, but I try to leave them behind in God’s care and in the care of others. I consider it an honour to work here and enjoy the company of my colleagues. It is a privilege to be part of this big team. All of this gives me huge satisfaction, along with the knowledge that we have made a positive difference in people’s lives.

Leeds Utd. Supporter


 Q.6. –Tell us a little about your life outside of work?

I’m married almost 36 years and have 3 grown-up children, with only our youngest girl still at home. Our eldest daughter and our son are both married, with one living locally and one in Yorkshire (which is very useful for me as a Leeds Utd supporter!). I enjoy time with family at home or out for walks or coffee. We enjoy crime drama programmes or other dramas like Call the Midwife and All Creatures Great and Small. like a variety of sports and try to go to watch my hometown football team, Portadown, when I can. I am part of our Church Praise Group so we practice one night each week and play most Sunday morning services. I find this good therapy and a help to refocus.