Chaplains and padre speak at Norfolk conference
This year’s Norfolk Chaplaincy Conference was held at East Tuddenham Jubilee Hall on October 17 on Models for Chaplaincy Today, organised by Good Work (Norfolk & Waveney Industrial Mission). Rev Dr Arnold Browne and Rev Matthew Hutton report on an excellent and thought-provoking day.
Some 26 delegates enjoyed an excellent and thought-provoking day at East Tuddenham Jubilee Hall on Monday 17 October put together by The Revd Chris Copsey, Chaplain to HM Coroner in Norwich and to the Matthew Project, and Social, Environmental and Community Concerns Officer for the Diocese of Norwich
One of the welcome features of the day was plenty of time to meet one another, to exchange experiences and to gain new ideas. Within that framework, and after a Welcome and Opening Prayer from Bishop Jonathan of Lynn, there were three principal Addresses: (i) Ben Ryan, Researcher from the Christian Think Tank Theos in London talking on ‘Models for Chaplaincy Today: Defining the Role of a Chaplain in Different Settings’; (ii) ‘Being a Padre’ by Wing Commander The Revd Paul Mellor, Senior Chaplain at RAF Marham; and, after lunch, (iii) ‘Spiritual Direction and Formation as a Life-long Commitment to Holiness’ by The Revd Dr Liviu Barbu, Chaplain at County Hall.
This Report focuses on the first of these talks as having content likely to be of most application to our readers.
‘Models for Chaplaincy Today’ by Ben Ryan
A recurring theme of the Conference was an acknowledgement and recognition of the wide, and indeed ever-increasing, range of contexts in which chaplaincy is found. Ben Ryan (who addressed last year’s Conference) is the author of the 2015 Theos Report Chaplaincy: A Very Modern Ministry. He identified some of the many contexts in which chaplaincy is found (that is, many more than the ‘big four’ of Education, Prisons, Health Care and the Military) and some of the many ways in which it is funded.
Ben (pictured above) highlighted as examples: Sports Chaplaincy UK as a model of active expression of the Christian faith; chaplaincy, both in London and Scotland, to those living with HIV/AIDS, funded by NHS grants and working with clients to face stark issues such as decisions whether or not to be tested; the multi-faith chaplaincy to the whole community of Canary Wharf, funded by the businesses based there; community chaplaincy, mentoring and supporting ex-offenders, funded by charities or local churches and using mainly volunteer lay chaplains; a chaplaincy to a group of five schools, serving a different school on each day of the week, and aiming, for example, to build girls’ confidence by working on body image, all without charge to the schools involved.
Ben commented that this variety in patterns of working and ways of funding means that there are many models of chaplaincy. He wondered what held them together beyond the term chaplaincy, noting that in fact this term is not always explicitly used to describe these ministries.
Ben reminded us that chaplains need to be ‘bilingual’, speaking both the theological language of the faith communities to which they belong and the secular language of the institutions they serve. Drawing on the work of Miranda Threlfall-Holmes and Mark Hewitt Being a Chaplain (London: SPCK, 2011), he referred to a number of theological and secular models of chaplaincy, which he emphasized were not exhaustive. Secular models include: pastoral care: spiritual care; historical/traditional; diversity; specialist service provider. He noted that these overlapped and interconnected with the following theological models.
This derives its obvious appeal from the reality that a majority of people in the UK have (by their own confession) no religion, though of course they may well be spiritual. This is good for fitting into different contexts. There is a danger of the perception of proselytism, although Ben made the interesting observation that a chaplain may feel sensitive about being thought to be engaging in evangelism, whereas the particular institution may rather expect the chaplain to do just that. Certainly, a willingness to be open to evangelistic opportunities is easier when not working for an institution such as the NHS which is typically paying for the services of the chaplain, perhaps producing a clash of priorities. Ben noted that connecting all the models of chaplaincy is the power of encounter, manifesting something of the love of God, with the potential for radical transformation. Ben quoted Pope Benedict XVI, writing ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’.
This has a focus of caring content, a witness to God’s love through serving others. It is perhaps the easiest model ‘to sell’. The potential problem lies in emptying of theological content, that is, we should ask what is distinctively Christian about it.
This is perhaps the original context of chaplaincy, namely an extension of the parish church for those who cannot get to it, being in prison or in the forces or away at boarding school or other educational establishment. Within the universities, Roman Catholics have tended to gather as church in their institution, whereas Protestants have tended to minister to their institutions while encouraging individuals to attend local churches. The question is whether this model is desirable? While it does meet the needs of particular groups of Christians, it seems quite insular.
* Agent of Challenge
Here we meet the language of the prophet called to challenge the organisation; for example, a chaplain to a Christian homeless charity which works with partner organizations and accepts public funding may be key to keeping the charity to its Christian agenda. This model differs from others in focusing ministry on the institution rather than on the individuals within it. Of course, both may be appropriate in a particular context, eg, agent of challenge as well as pastor.
This is perhaps most interesting as embodied within the person of the chaplain, in being directed to his or her identity and presence rather than to what he/she does, a matter of ‘loitering with intent’. However, there are two problems: (i) How can it be translated to anything meaningful in a secular space, when it consists in ‘just being’; and (ii) it relies on the assumption that there is within the chaplaincy such a full-time presence, which sadly is very rarely true in practice.
However, this model is getting at something crucial about chaplaincy, albeit focusing too much on the individual. Perhaps the model could become stronger if we add to it something of the Roman Catholic social theology or ‘personalism’, relying on the proposition that we are innately relational beings. Then incarnational becomes important, as Jesus is constantly alongside people. God is already there – you do not take him with you - and your job is to encounter people and to build relationships.
This is one which Ben has added to the list found in Being a Chaplain, drawing here on the work of Stephen Pattison of Birmingham University. The question is whether people are being brought closer to the church through chaplaincy or whether they are becoming members of a cult based around one chaplain. A distinction is to be drawn between exile (which implies a divorce from the home church) and mission (where missio implies a continuing connection with home). Many Christian chaplains do feel disenfranchised from their church, for example some health care chaplains, who have a liberal approach to issues of human sexuality, say they have ‘escaped’ from the Church. Ben commented that it seemed to him not only that the Church needs these chaplains, but also that they need the Church.
Ben concluded by observing that it is easy for the chaplain just to be ‘nice’, a sort of ‘cheap help for now’. There is a real need to reflect on what the chaplain is actually doing, the answer to which will be quite setting-specific. Big questions are raised by the requirement for impact assessments, especially in health care, where it can be quite difficult to identify the benefit of each visit made, as opposed to the outcome of a series of visits over a period of time.
Introduction to an Audit of Norfolk Chaplains by Natan Mladin
Ben’s colleague Natan went on to introduce the forthcoming audits of chaplaincy in Norfolk and Cornwall being carried out by Theos (with the benefit of grants from charitable trusts). Information about this Chaplaincy Mapping Exercise is available at:
It follows from the work done in Luton which led to the 2015 Theos report, Chaplaincy: A Very Modern Ministry and has developed clearer and further questions. Theos are looking to put together information and statistics on chaplaincy in Norfolk (as well from faiths other than Christianity) over October 2016 through to the end of January 2017, This Report will be a very useful springboard from which to develop chaplaincy within the county. Chaplains working alone are encouraged to complete the survey, and those working in teams are urged to bring it to the attention of their lead chaplain.
‘Being a Padre’ by Wing Commander The Revd Paul Mellor
Paul gave us a fascinating insight into what it means to be a Padre in the Armed Forces, with a vivid slide-illustrated account of his career. He is part of a mixed group at Marham consisting of an Anglican and a Roman Catholic Chaplain as well as himself, a Methodist. There are great advantages in being part of a mixed group serving ‘All Souls’. Paul spoke of the benefits of wearing a uniform (that is, being part of the military context and culture) while being outside the chain of command. Men and women can come to Forces’ Chaplains in confidence, for example to wrestle with issues of the morality of their situation without any risk of being charged with insubordination.
Chaplains go where the people go, that is in the midst of action and in Paul’s case to the Falklands, to Iraq, to Oman, and to Afghanistan. Unlike other members of the services they are prohibited from carrying weapons. Significantly, Paul told of occasions of safeguarding the rights of prisoners of war and of ensuring that the bodies of the enemy are treated with respect. Fundamentally, chaplains are there to serve the RAF through prayer, presence and proclamation. Most deployed military hospitals have a chaplain. He stated that for him the most challenging aspects of his role are dealing with casualties and ministering to the bereaved. Paul spoke about his involvement with the creation of a Chapel of Rest at RAF Lyneham, where families could spend time quietly with the repatriated bodies of their loved ones.
Paul noted how chaplains meet with every new recruit, perhaps the first time they will have met someone in a dog-collar. Chaplains also deliver a course named ‘Beliefs and Values’, exploring the recruits’ own beliefs and values and connecting them with the RAF’s core values of ‘respect, integrity, service before self, and excellence’, seeing how the former match up with the latter.
Many and varied are the roles of a Forces Chaplain.
‘Spiritual Direction and Formation as a Life-long Commitment to Holiness’ by The Revd Dr Liviu Barbu
Fr Liviu is a Romanian Orthodox priest who, as well as being recently appointed Chaplain to County Hall (taking over from Chris Copsey), is also an academic and a pastor to a Romanian Orthodox congregation in South Norfolk.
He emphasised that pastors and chaplains need to aim for holiness, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Be holy, therefore, as your Father in Heaven is holy’ (Matthew 5:48), and in that way, they could be examples to others, who seeing their good works would glorify their Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Holiness, he emphasized, is the foremost Christian vocation. Liviu added that being like God, made in his image, we need to reflect him in the world for which we are its seasoning salt and its light. We are thus to be God’s hands in transforming the world around us, each asking ourselves ‘how much do we resemble him in doing that?’ Liviu quoted the late Romanian Orthodox priest and theologian Dumitru Staniloae who said: ‘Holiness goes hand in hand with gentleness and tenderness’ and talked about these qualities in saintly people.
Liviu challenged us with a question as to whether we can still live as did the saints of the past. He argued that, while Jesus is our supreme guide, we still need living examples in each generation. Holiness is a lifelong endeavour and commitment and here Liviu developed the model of living examples passing on their experience, from the spiritual director to the disciple. A true spiritual guide knows God and his ways, and knows also how to guide us spiritually in a materialistic world.
Accepting spiritual direction is a self-emptying (kenosis: see Philippians 2:5-11) spiritual exercise attuning us to God. That is strengthened through fellowship, which also implies judging ourselves realistically and seeing our own gifts as gifts received in order to serve others. In engaging in spiritual direction and formation, pastors and the people bear the joys and sorrows of life together, strengthening their fellowship in a mutual openness to the Holy Spirit.
Both the spiritual guide and the disciple listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Through spiritual formation, the disciple is being formed anew and he or she becomes what God has called him or her to be. There is a continuous process of formation and refinement, listening to others, including family, friends and neighbours, as well as to the Christian community and to God. In this way, the disciple pursues the Gospel imperative of forsaking oneself and following Christ. So it is that we assume God’s will in our lives.
Being a chaplain is not merely a question of morality but also of personal transformation. In conclusion, the Christian has the unavoidable vocation of becoming a saint and spiritual direction can be a means of hallowing one’s life.
As chaplains, we can do much by being well-rounded disciples of Christ in sensing the miracle of the world, enjoying and celebrating the gift of life and by that inspiring those whom we serve. The chaplain has also the opportunity of bringing about the peace and the joy which are not of this world and which Christ gave to his disciples.
Another excellent Conference, drawing together chaplains working in many different contexts. The hope is that future such Conferences will be attended by many more of those who would both enjoy and be stimulated by them. That would ideally include not only those with a present ministry of chaplaincy, but also those (ordained or lay) considering such a ministry for themselves. It would be good too to have representation from faiths other than Christian – as well as to see these annual Conferences commended to colleagues and to others.
The Revd Dr Arnold Browne, member of the chaplaincy team at HM Prison Norwich; firstname.lastname@example.org
The Revd Matthew Hutton, curate at St Stephen’s Church, Norwich; email@example.com