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On the practice and value of chaplaincy

17 April 2015


From Hilary Topp

Sir, - The growth in chaplaincy provision (Comment, 13 March) is, of course, to be welcomed, and offers a way for the Church to be present in the public square in our diverse modern society.

I am grateful that the Theos report highlights the valuable ministry of chaplains, and hope that this challenges the common misconception that university chaplains are the equivalent of youth workers for students and young adults, when, in fact, their ministry is mainly pastoral, serving the whole university community.

This clearer understanding of chaplaincy points us to the exciting missional opportunities of student work, providing programmes for discipleship and outreach - which is significantly underfunded. My hope is that reading the Theos report will encourage the Churches, both locally and nationally, to invest also in student work and outreach, alongside chaplaincy provision.

National Coordinator
Student Christian Movement
504F The Big Peg
120 Vyse Street, Jewellery Quarter
Birmingham B18 6NE


From Canon David Wheaton

Sir, - Your recent article on chaplaincy work brings to mind an incident in 1971, when I was chaplain to the Brompton Hospital.

A new children's ward had just been opened. Designed by the paediatricians, it was state-of-the-art. Sister's desk was at the centre, with beds all around, and, for ease of access to and from the theatre, the ICU section was sectioned off just inside the main and only door, with plate glass from floor to ceiling, so that everyone could see what was going on there.

This was fine in theory, but it meant that any child being taken into the ward would be greeted by the sight of a child patient possibly with wires and tubes attached to all parts of his or her body.

I was called in one Sunday afternoon, at the request of parents who asked for their baby to be baptised before she went for heart surgery. On my way up in the lift, I was met by the surgeon, who was on his way to breaking the news to another couple of parents that their baby had just died during his operation.

Because of the configuration of the ward, the two sets of parents were sitting side by side; so, with no space for privacy, he would have to break the sad news to one set, before asking the others for their baby for the same operation.

The next day, I went to see the ward sister, who agreed that the system was just not viable, and that something must be done. "We cannot appear to be criticising the doctors and surgeons whose pipe dream this is," she said. "There is only one person in this hospital who can do anything about it, and that is you."

Consequently, I submitted a report to the board of governors, and in due course a different ward was created.

17 Riverside Road
Blandford Forum
Dorset DT11 7ES


From Canon Randell Moll

Sir, - Your articles about chaplaincy are very welcome. You are right in suggesting that this ministry - especially in industrial and commercial workplaces - has not always been supported. Nor has the mission imperative for this calling always been understood, even by Christians who are key figures in their workplaces.

An industrialist was asked by a bishop to chair a session on Christianity and work. This captain of industry is a staunch church member, out on his bike delivering the parish magazine at weekends. But his answer was "Sorry - I can't afford to take my faith into my work."

Workplace chaplains are sometimes asked: "So you are taking God into work?" to which they are likely to answer: "No, I am going there to see what he is doing." It is extraordinary that work still seems to be thought about, by some, as little to do with God, and is rarely talked about in church.

And yet the General Synod, no less, was moved, not so long ago, to pass unanimously a resolution declaring that work is, in essence, a spiritual activity, and urging dioceses to respond accordingly.

We need to recover an accessible theology of work and the economy. Then, perhaps, not only would individual churchgoers be able to understand their own work more deeply in the light of their faith, but the resolute, pioneering, and admirable mission and ministry of workplace chaplains, in a great variety of workplaces, would receive the recognition it deserves, and be adequately supported by many churches, not just by its own Industrial Mission Association. Vast resources are not needed: a little goes a long way in this work.

For more information, see www.industrialmissionassociation.org.uk.

Penn Cottage, Green End Granborough
Buckingham MK18 3NT

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