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Changing face of chaplaincy

08 March 2019

Chaplaincy is entering new areas and becoming more professional, reports Ted Harrison

Royal Crown 

The Royal Navy heads of departments with the Chaplain of the Fleet, the Ven. Martyn Gough, in the churchyard garden of St Bartholomew’s Fleet Air Arm Memorial Church, Yeovilton, where RNAS Yeovilton held an Act of Remembrance

The Royal Navy heads of departments with the Chaplain of the Fleet, the Ven. Martyn Gough, in the churchyard garden of St Bartholomew’s Fleet Air Arm ...

BEFORE the Revd Gordon Craig was first allowed to visit his flock, he had to escape from a submerged helicopter. Before taking up his ministry, the Ven. Martyn Gough had to endure a three-day yomp across a cold and wet Dartmoor.

Fortunately, for most chaplaincy appointments, such demanding tests are not mandatory; but induction programmes, and other forms of specialist training, are increasingly being offered and recommended.

Mr Craig is chaplain to the North Sea oil and gas industry, and regularly flies out to off-shore rigs by helicopter, hence the emergency drill. Archdeacon Gough is a Royal Navy chaplain, and now the Chaplain of the Fleet: all service chaplains must prove that they are physically fit for service.

Chaplaincy is the catch-all title for people appointed to work in all kinds of places outside the parish. While the term is generally understood, certain aspects are harder to define. In institutions such as prisons, hospitals, and the armed forces, the tradition of chaplaincy goes back many decades, even centuries. It is recognised with formal appointments, and ordained clergy are given salaried, often full-time, posts.

But chaplaincy is an expanding area of ministry, and the opportunities for contact with people who would never be seen inside a church are being recognised. In many of these new areas of chaplaincy — shopping centres, bus depots, sporting arenas, building sites, and airports — a growing trend is for posts to be part-time, voluntary, and lay.

Jacqueline LittlewoodSome members of the chaplaincy team at Bluewater shopping centre last year prepare daffodil posies to give to the retail staff on Easter Monday

The retail sector has been a huge area of growth in chaplaincy. Canon Peter Sellick, of Workplace Chaplaincy Mission UK (WCMUK), formerly known as the Industrial Mission Association, says that, of the 580 members today, 90 per cent “no longer work in heavy industry: 80 per cent are found in the retail sector.” Of those chaplaincy posts, most are lay members of their Church.

“There is nothing to stop anyone calling themselves a chaplain, and people may take them at face value,” Canon Sellick says. Chaplains are increasingly expected to meet high professional standards, however, and training for both lay and ordained is becoming more structured.

Bluewater, in Kent — a huge shopping centre with 1.6 million square feet of retail space — has an established chaplaincy service to support its staff. As part of this service, it provides a “Place of Quiet”, located between Pret a Manger and Carphone Warehouse. It is a peaceful space for staff to retreat to, and also the location of a weekly Wednesday Christian prayer meeting and Muslim Friday lunchtime prayers (Jummah), which are led by an imam.

Valerie Winchester has been one of the shopping centre’s part-time chaplains for eight years. She aims to visit the mall every Tuesday. Her responsibility is for the staff working in the retail outlets on Upper Thames Walk Blue. “Tuesday is a good day, when things are a little less busy. I talk to staff and get to know them. I find many are under a lot of pressure to meet sales targets, knowing that, if they meet the targets one month, they’ll have to do more the next.”

Mrs Winchester is a member of a Baptist church, and one of an ecumenical team of ten, each with their own area of responsibility on the 200-acre site. There are also three chaplaincy partners, two of them Muslim. They meet together once a month.

“When I started, I was shown around by some of the experienced chaplains, but I had no formal training,” Mrs Winchester says. Today, new chaplains are trained by the Kent Workplace Mission, an ecumenical Christian charity based at Larkfield Methodist Church, Aylesford, near Maidstone. It runs the chaplaincy service at Bluewater, in partnership with Bluewater and the Methodist Church.

Kent Workplace Mission exists to develop chaplaincy ministries, and lists several models of chaplaincy that are available to Kent-based companies: a regular visiting chaplain who is given time to chat and get to know staff; a visiting chaplain who can offer employees a regular surgery; or a chaplain on-call, for times of emergency and crisis only. The charity provides training and ongoing support.

Canon Sellick runs WCMUK’s courses in chaplaincy. “We look at pastoral skills, how to challenge and question practices in the workplace, and when this might be appropriate; there is theological reflection on work, and we look at approaches to specific issues such as redundancy, or when someone dies in the workplace.”

Dealing with death is a particularly hard part of a chaplain’s job. “Every offshore death is sudden and unexpected,” Mr Craig, a Church of Scotland minister, says. “Crews are very tight-knit, and any offshore death sends ripples through the entire crew.

“Like chaplaincy in any field, the work means you are ministering to people of working age who are not meant to die. And, while the vast majority of offshore deaths occur as a result of natural causes, this doesn’t make these tragedies any easier for the families to cope with.”

Reflecting the growth of interest in lay posts, the first year of the BA Honours degree in theology at Spurgeon’s College, in Croydon, now offers a hands-on unit on chaplaincy. Students work each week in a supervised placement alongside an experienced chaplain. The completed degree is validated by the University of Manchester.

Traditional ministry training in the Church of England has been largely geared towards ordination and preparation for parish work.


SCHOOL chaplains are a well established area of ministry, especially in public schools. Many state schools have ongoing links with parish clergy, who might not be called chaplains but who serve the same purpose.

School chaplaincy is another area in which there is growth in lay appointments and specialist training courses. The School Chaplains and Leaders Association (SCALA) has members from all areas of education within Britain, although the majority of schools belonging to SCALA are from the independent sector. SCALA chaplains may be full- or part-time, employed or voluntary, teachers or local clergy, lay or ordained.

Royal CrownThe Ven. Martyn Gough presides at a eucharist in the dining room on HMS Duncan

The association organises training days run by experienced school chaplains, designed to support those entering or continuing in school chaplaincy.

The Institute of Children Youth and Mission (CYM) offers postgraduate courses in Chaplaincy with Children and Young People. These run alongside their MA courses in Youth and Community Work and Practical Theology. The courses are part-time, and tailored for those already working in ministry, or seeking a career change. Degrees are awarded by Staffordshire University.


“Lots of students come to us having done youth work. The task is to become expert . . . to be able to stand alongside the youth services and social services as professionals,” the CYM director of postgraduate studies, Robin Smith, says.

Dr Karen North, a senior lecturer at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, has noticed within the Roman Catholic Church an increase in young people extending a gap year to do work that will prepare them for lay ministry. To meet this interest, St Mary’s this year started a new foundation degree course in youth ministry and school chaplaincy.

“Chaplaincy is about personality,” she says, as well as about the part the chaplain is expected to play in a school.

“In some schools, they are senior members of staff, and contribute positively to the ethos of the place. In other schools, they might be more on the sidelines.” Overall, Dr North has noticed an increase in the numbers of schools, both Anglican and Roman Catholic, appointing a chaplain.


CHAPLAINS have been familiar figures in hospitals for many years. Given the monastic foundation of hospitals, it could be said that their chaplains pre-date most other medical vocations. Even here, though, the position has become increasingly professionalised. In 2015, the UK Board of Health Care Chaplaincy (UKBHCC) was set up to support the professional registration of chaplains, to advise employers on appointing health-care chaplains, to set standards of conduct, and to advance the body of specialised knowledge and skill of chaplaincy.

The aim was to ensure that all board-registered chaplains were professionally trained and qualified in health-care chaplaincy. Since 2017, UKBHCC has been accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.

The UKBHCC has set up an introductory online course for prospective chaplains, and there are five university-accredited postgraduate health-care chaplaincy programmes available in the UK. The Cardiff University qualification, for instance, co-devised with St Padarn’s Institute, is taught via four short residential schools per year, with online tutorial support throughout. The part-time M.Th. degree takes two years to complete.


IN THE Royal Navy, there are 60 regular and 26 Reserve chaplains serving at present. “We are a branch of naval services: in the Navy but not of the Navy — slightly to one side,” Archdeacon Gough says. Applicants have to be ordained clergy within a recognised denomination, and have an interview both with the Admiralty Board and with the Chaplain of the Fleet.

If appointed, they spend a term at the Britannia Royal Naval College, at Dartmouth, to receive basic training; specialist training follows at sea or on shore, and for appointments with the Royal Marines Commandos.

“The majority of our work is pastoral: sorting out lives. A key quality is resilience. Have we both spiritual and physical reserves to call on? Can we keep going when things get really hard?” Archdeacon Gough says.


THERE have been paid chaplains in prisons since the early 19th century, and the chaplain is one of the three statutorily appointed officers (the others being the governor and the medical officer). As officers of the Prison Service, chaplains are subject to the same employment and disciplinary conditions as other staff.

Anglican chaplains are normally ordained. Once appointed, new chaplains undergo a two-day training course at the Prison Service College, which covers statutory duties and gives a flavour of what to expect.

The Revd Gordon Craig in action as chaplain to those in the North Sea oil and gas industry

The managing chaplain at HM Prison Hewell, in Worcester diocese, the Revd Margie Schutte, says: “We are here to offer pastoral care to people in their distress; not to be judgemental or to proselytise. The job is vast and varied, and there is only one real way of training, and that is on the job.

“Anyone interested in the work should first come into a jail, and be taken round. They will quickly know whether they can or can’t cope in an environment where there can be drugs and violence.”


CHAPLAINS who traditionally worked alongside colleagues from other Christian traditions now increasingly find themselves in multifaith groups, and responding to the spiritual needs of people who often have no faith links at all.

At Manchester Airport, for instance, there is a multifaith chaplaincy team a dozen strong to minister to all staff, and a weekly throughput of more than half-a-million travellers.

As the leading Methodist chaplain, the Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, once put it: “Chaplains are missionaries, the human face of Christ, the Church that has left the building.”

Ted Harrison is an artist, writer, and a former BBC religious-affairs corres­pondent.

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