The Welsh Ambulance Service has appointed its first chaplain.
Reverend Mike Shephard, from Carmarthenshire, was appointed to provide a ‘listening ear’ for the 3,000-strong workforce and provide pastoral care to colleagues and their families.
The 73-year-old former probation officer joined the service in January, and quickly and inadvertently became a crucial source of support for staff through the Covid-19 pandemic.
The father-of-two said: “I was a little apprehensive coming into the service because I wasn’t sure what sort of reception I’d have, but everyone has been so positive.’
“The truth is I’m not your typical minister and have gone through periods in my own career of intense doubt, to the point where I left the ministry for some years because I felt I needed to find myself.’
“My role at the ambulance service is about being spiritual but not religious, and providing that listening ear to anyone who needs me, in whatever way that might be.’
“Drawing on this period in my life means I can better empathise and relate to other people who are also at a low ebb.
“I’ve got so much respect for the NHS having been through bowel cancer and everything that brings; this is my way of paying something back.”
Revd Shephard, originally from Tredegar, Monmouthshire, left school at 15 to train to be a miner and spent a year in the pit at Oakdale Colliery.
It was at this time he joined a local church, and inspired by the life and example of his then minister, decided to embark on the same path.
At 17, he went to study Theology at the North Wales Baptist College in Bangor and by the tender age of 21, had become the UK’s youngest ordained minister.
Revd Shephard held pastorates in North Devon, West Glamorgan, Radnorshire, Gwent and Carmarthenshire while holding down a career as a probation officer and later, a family court adviser.
He said: “The skills I acquired as a social worker are very much transferrable into my role as a minister, and now chaplain.’
“You’re dealing with people who have been through the most traumatic experiences, and are supporting the extended ambulance service family during times of injury, illness and bereavement.’
“I consider myself an outlet for the thoughts and emotions of staff and a crutch through their darkest times; it’s actually very humbling.’
“In this role, you have to be kind, caring and compassionate, and that’s definitely the hallmark of the Welsh Ambulance Service.”
Wendy Herbert, the Trust’s Assistant Director of Quality and Nursing, who helped recruit Revd Shephard into the role, said: “We had been exploring the idea of a chaplain for many years having seen the benefits it’s had for our police and fire service colleagues, but only recently has the idea come to fruition.
“Ambulance work has become increasingly complex and demanding, and the appointment of a chaplain was designed to strengthen the support offer for our staff.
“Revd Shephard joined us in the New Year and then the Covid-19 pandemic ensued, and he quickly became a fundamental source of support for staff, who really look forward to his weekly columns on the Intranet.’
“We’re delighted he’s joined our ambulance service family and look forward to a long and fruitful partnership.”
Revd Shephard, along with others, was instrumental in establishing a drop-in centre at Carmarthen’s English Baptist Church which, 32 years on, continues to host Christmas Day lunch for more than 130 people who otherwise would be on their own during the festive period.
“I believe that this is what churches are really all about,” he added.
In his spare time, he enjoys gardening and walking holidays which have taken him to various parts of the world, including to the Maltese Islands, Canary Islands and Spain.
He and wife Gwendda have a son, 51, a daughter, 49, and six grandchildren.