While the congregation at Dowerin Uniting Church may be low in numbers, Shirley Hagboom, member of the congregation, is a life-giving member of the community – a ‘go-to-girl’ for spiritual needs.
Shirley is the chaplain for two days a week at the local school, Dowerin District High School, but said that her role reaches well beyond those walls. Often, while she is out running errands around town, people approach her in the street to talk about things which are troubling them.
“I thoroughly enjoy being chaplain,” she said. “It’s not always at the school site; it could be down the road. You just never know when God is going to use you. God uses us as a conduit to help people.”
These meetings in the street occur so often that Shirley has started packing a ‘chaplaincy grab bag’ which is full of pamphlets and bits of information that might be helpful to people she meets while out and about.
In a school with less than 130 students, Shirley said the community is very close and people will often let her know when someone is going through a hard time so that she can be there when they need her and she can keep an eye out for them.
“The beauty of being in a small town, you know the families and extended families fairly well,” she said. “The pastoral care is really special because it feels like a family school.”
And she is definitely no stranger. Having married into the town of Dowerin 44 years ago, her children attended the school while she was working there as a teacher’s aide. Now that she is the chaplain, her grandchildren are coming up through the school.
For Shirley, chaplaincy and ministry is a way of life.
“I love it. I love people,” she said. “I feel very privileged when families invite me into their homes and lives when somebody is unhappy or a funeral is involved.”
With the help and support of the Rural Ministry Team, including co-ordinator Rev Lorraine Stokes, Shirley approaches her ministry with an open heart.
“You can do ministry whether you are an ordained person or not. You can do ministry at the supermarket.”