My engagements with chaplaincy have been some of the most formative experiences of my ministry. In my first curacy, my vicar and I spent time ministering on shop floors and in offices each week. In my second curacy, I was part of the chaplaincy team for a large general hospital as well as to the local Air Training Corps and further education college.
In ministry since then, I have been grateful for connections with chaplains in schools, higher and further education, hospitals, with the forces, with young people’s uniformed organisations and in other contexts. Those engaged in chaplaincy have much to teach the wider Church and we have much to learn. Crucially, their ministry is a reminder to take a wider perspective beyond immediate needs, and to look with Christ-like eyes to the needs of the world and its people.
Chaplaincy at its heart is ‘Christ-centred,’ following the pattern of Jesus who is born in the midst and the mess of life. It is deeply incarnational, sharing the experience of men, women and children, each and every one, whether they come to church or not, made in God’s image. Their stories, longings, sorrows, hopes and anxieties are not much different from our own and shape the context in which we are called to minister, in the pattern of Jesus Christ.
Jesus walks with each one of us in his earthly ministry. Chaplains, in their ministry, walk with those in their care. It is not proselytising or preaching but it is, in its incarnational way, deeply of the gospel, deeply evangelical in inhabiting the good news of the one in whom life in all its fullness is found. Chaplains are shaped by their faith in Jesus Christ, and thus are so often seen as beacons of hope, the hope that is in Jesus, who triumphs over death on the cross and brings new life in the resurrection. They offer new ways of looking at the institution in which they work and minister, and they help those for whom that place is an integral part of their life – students, employees, patients ….
Sometimes, the situations people are in are very challenging – perhaps working with others in a hospital to keep the focus of the institution with all its different demands on those in need of care. Perhaps working in a school, to keep in mind that we are called to educate not just for exams (not that they are unimportant) but for the whole of life. It might involve being with a patient who is dying, to support them in celebrating the gift of life which is still theirs to be shared with those they love.
Chaplains, who can be lay or ordained, some full time, many more offering a few hours a week alongside other work and ministry, do indeed remind us to take a wider perspective. Chaplains remind the whole Church that if we are to be true to our calling, we must look beyond ourselves. Their ministry is integral to our Church being a healthy church. This is why both Bishop Rachel and I are thankful and supportive of their ministry. Please pray for them, encourage them and maybe even if you feel so called and opportunity arises, explore if you might join them.
The next meeting of the Chaplains Network is this Wednesday, 31 January at 3.30 Details here.