Burrswood Chaplain - The Rev Christine Garrard

Burrswood Christian Hospital nestles in its own picturesque, wooded grounds in Groombridge, about 4 miles away from Tunbridge Wells. It is the only independent hospital in Britain registered with the Care Quality Commission and integrates medicine with Christian ministry.  The Burrswood care team is committed to the principle that every patient has physical, emotional and spiritual needs and all are of equal importance in the healing process. Patients of all faiths and none are welcomed equally and Burrswood offers both in-patient and out-patient care. With a team of over 330 people, Burrswood relies on volunteer support as well as a paid staff of nurses, resident doctors,  resident chaplains and other domestic support services. The Rev Christine Garrard heads up the Chaplaincy team. She explained, “We strive to put the love of Christ at the heart of our care. We have staff meetings every day to discuss the needs of patients, and spiritual care is as important as medical care. It’s irrelevant whether the patient is a Christian or not – every patient is visited by a chaplain after they arrive. We negotiate with patients regarding their spiritual needs - we don’t evangelise at all.”

Burrswood offers palliative care as well as services such as physiotherapy, counselling, rehabilitation, convalescence and respite care.  It is also recognised as a leader in the field of chronic fatigue syndrome. Christine said, “My initial conversation with a patient is very important. Patients here have suffered some kind of trauma. They may also be lonely or depressed. Burrswood is a very safe place and so, during their stay here, all kinds of issues can bubble up. I am here to listen.”

Christine came to Burrswood from ministry in Ipswich and now lives on site. She explained, “There is a 60 year tradition of people living on site and it works well. Outside hours we never discuss work. This is a very challenging role.  We have worked with patients from as young as 18 to the oldest at 103. It is expensive in both time and energy and the benefit to patients is huge. Although the quantity of work is enormous, it is an unspeakable joy and a privilege to work here. I am met with cheery faces saying good morning every day!”

Offering palliative care means that Christine often has to minister to both the terminally ill and the bereaved. She said, “The whole team has to learn boundary strategies. When someone dies, there are tears, but when we speak of healing, we all recognise that sometimes we can’t cure the patient. Instead, we walk that journey with them and hope to imbue them with strength along the way. Healing is very personal – it is something between the person and God – a journey of reconciliation. We are not preaching at them. Burrswood is about the struggle with suffering, we don’t have all the answers for a physical cure. Sometimes that’s not a possibility. Occasionally, patients are angry and we strive to help them with that anger – we don’t live in a pious haze here!  Instead, we seek to help a person die at peace with themselves and with God. Sometimes, I can be overwhelmed by the miracle that I have witnessed. I am not a healer – the Church is that of Christ the Healer.”

The number of church services differs from day to day since patients and visitors have different needs. Christine said, “We have from 1 to 3 services each day, with a daily Eucharist each day except Saturday.   We also hold two public healing services – one on a Thursday morning and the other on a Saturday afternoon. It’s an open house and everyone is welcome to attend. We often have between 30 and 100 people. The 5pm service is also broadcast to all of the patients’ bedrooms.  Burrswood is a very welcoming place: we have a tearoom and lovely gardens. We look forward to welcoming people who just want to relax.” 


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