Seriously Troubling Times

By Alastair Reid, Chair, CWC

Life is always unpredictable but there are elements of stability which we rely on and make our lives that bit more manageable.

It is hardly a surprise that the situation in Ukraine would have far reaching effects. We’ve experienced the immediate effects on fuel, we are now beginning to see further ramifications of shortages. There are impacts on our basics such as wheat, we import 25% of our requirements from Ukraine and we are seeing shortages of other categories such as vegetable oil.  

It’s also not a surprise about the general increase in prices. In this mix we are all aware of the impact of the huge, not gradual, leap in home energy costs. For some these changes can be budgeted for and accommodated for by adjustments in discretionary spending. This still has an impact on the wider economy as it results, in the main, in reduced spending in other areas, which affects businesses and consequently, employment. 

There are many and I think its the majority of individuals and families who do not have the resources to manage these increases in this way. My family were poor, there was always food but we all knew that money was extremely tight and it wasn’t unusual to hear that the housekeeping for the week had been used up by Thursday. We managed. Later in life I developed health problems which meant I couldn’t work productively and my business folded. Fortunately my wife was working and we managed. This latter event was an eye opener in many ways, but it was particularly in the realisation of the stress my parents must have been under in the early years of our family. 

It seems our politicians have no conception of the way most people manage financially. It also appears they have no idea of the effects of sudden and/or rapid cost increases. They again appear not to have any idea of what its like to have to choose between cooking, heating, buying food, paying the rent, mortgage, credit cards etc. And, with the real possibility of homelessness persistently looming despite best efforts and application for some. 

Despite popular myth, most people want to work. Most people want a little enjoyment from life and a small financial buffer to allow some modest discretionary spending and work hard to achieve these. 

My personal impression was that the UK economy was in fairly robust shape despite Covid and exiting the EU. My impression now is that the economy is now much more fragile. The effect on the majority of businesses, regardless of sector is becoming noticeable. As said this will affect existing jobs and impact on future job growth. The consequent stress on employees, owners, directors will range from noticeable to very significant. There will be impacts on physical and mental health. More, again as said, will find it hard to maintain rents, mortgages and other financial commitments. 

Workplace Chaplains will be needed more than ever.

What are we about?

By Rev. Paul Hills, Vice Chair, CWC

What are we about?  As, hopefully, chaplaincy at work gets going again it’s worth asking that question.

There will be lots of answers about care, support, communication etc. and all will be correct.  Yet chaplaincy is surely a bit more.  I came across this poem by R.S.Thomas recently and I wonder if it speaks to chaplaincy.  It’s called “The Bright Field”

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it.  But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it.  I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it.  Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past.  It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Perhaps part of a chaplain’s work is to be the one who doesn’t hurry, who has time to be a listening ear, to “loiter with intent”. In that way a “brightness” might be noted, an opportunity to live more fully might be illuminated and taken.  It might be difficult to put that on a corporate spreadsheet, but it could be life changing for one person at least.

How was it for you?

By Canon Professor Clive Morton, Vice Chair (Peterborough) CWC
 
As I write this we have had an announcement from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, proclaiming the end of Covid restrictions with an aspiration of ‘returning to normal’. A time for celebration, wariness or reflection? Probably all three!

CWC trustees have been discussing how we can capture experience and learn from the last two years of pandemic and how the pandemic has affected the work of chaplains. It is clear that all chaplains have had to adapt to new ways of working – often with workplaces shut and many employees working from home, imaginative ideas and practices have emerged to enable chaplains to keep in touch with colleagues and employees. CWC mounted a help line for chaplains and employees to keep in touch, and in keeping with most of the solutions devised, communications went digital. Who had ever heard of Zoom or Teams before 2020?

CWC is not the only chaplaincy organisation that is reflecting on the last two years’ experience. In January more than 120 people involved in chaplaincy gathered from across Baptist Together for an online chaplains’ day. Every chaplaincy sector was represented, from health, prisons and higher education, to the military, police, sport and other workplace settings.

In the first session, nine chaplains shared two-minute stories of what and how they had seen God at work in the recent season. Time was then spent in small groups in breakout rooms, listening to the stories of chaplaincy colleagues and praying for each other. In an evening session, Rosa Hunt, co-principal of Cardiff Baptist College, gave a keynote address on “Desire and disorientation”. This explored those moments when the innate spirituality of people becomes apparent even in what might otherwise be considered secular space.

This news of chaplains getting together to reflect on the last two years is encouraging, because your trustees have been planning an online symposium for chaplains in the Eastern Region for May 2022 with Rev Dr Andrew Todd (Senior Lecturer and Director of the Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology Anglia Ruskin University and Cambridge Theological Federation) to address two important questions for chaplaincy:

  • What has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on chaplaincy in the region?
  • How has chaplaincy adapted in the light of the pandemic, including in innovative ways?

This will be an opportunity for all those involved in chaplaincy in the region to meet together, to share insights arising from the last two years, support each other, and to learn how these insights might shape the future development of chaplaincy.

So, please watch this space – we will be publishing more details on the symposium as planning develops, and if you have ideas on the formation of this day and topics to be covered, please do say!
 
Canon Professor Clive Morton, Vice Chair (Peterborough) CWC

Seeking Validation at Work

By Revd. Mary Hanna, CWC
 
It is a basic need for all of us in the workplace that we feel appreciated for what we do. Much stress at work arises out of staff feeling undervalued leading to a belief that what they do is of no importance. This affects self -worth and ultimately well-being.
 
As I reflect on the role of chaplains in the workplace, I am aware of how small our presence is in relation to the size of the organisations which host us. Our role is unique but frequently not well understood in the secular environment of the workplace. Chaplains too needs to feel validated in their role, to feel part of a wider team with all the social and psychological benefits that this confers. There are advantages for chaplains ‘working on the edges and margins’, to quote Woodward, but this can also be a lonely place to reside. So how do we ensure our role is understood and that our value is recognised?
 
Whenever possible we should link into our organisation’s human resources and wellbeing support services in order that our presence is highlighted and our roles and the benefits, we can confer to the workplace are better understood. Having a visible presence amongst staff and patients/service users will help ensure that we are in tune with changes and concerns ad that we are accessible.
 
 Of equal importance is to make opportunities to meet up with fellow chaplains in order to offer mutual support and to learn from one another. There are also numerous training and meetings where links can be established with colleagues. For those working in healthcare, the College of Health care Chaplains (CHCC) offers membership, courses and journals. There is also an annual 2/3-day conference: www.healthcarechaplains.org
For those working in mental health, there is the National Spirituality and Mental health Forum (NSMHF) for all practitioners and service users. www.spiritualitymentalhealth.org
 
Locally Cambridgeshire Workplace chaplaincy offers a monthly opportunity via zoom to link in with us and other chaplains. (See the link below in our newsletter). Your feedback as to how we can best support you will be invaluable to us in seeing to meet your needs.  
 
Revd. Mary Hanna, Trustee, CWC

Unconditional Support

By Revd. Michael Page CWC
 
A few days ago I was involved, on behalf of a charity where I am a trustee, in a conversation with another charity. The conversation was about looking at ways of working together in order to operate more efficiently for the benefit of those we all want to help. The sticking point was around the fact that the charity I represented has a faith basis whilst the other one is strongly secular.

We went back and forth for some time trying to understand where each side was finding difficulty until it dawned on me that our friends were concerned that our faith basis meant that our goal was getting others to adopt our way of believing, whereas we saw our faith basis as simply being the reason why we wanted to offer help. Once we were able to reassure them on that point, and by changing a couple of words in a draft statement of intest, we rapidly made progress.

When I was working as a prison chaplain I would occasionally be rebuffed with something along the lines of: “I’m not interested in religion” (although the words were not usually as mild as that!). I would then explain that my role was mainly about making sure that a person was OK and that they knew how to make contact with family or gain access to healthcare or were not retreating into themselves or any of the host of challenges that somebody serving a prison sentence might face during their time inside.

Even though I didn’t wear a clerical collar or any of the other external signs of the clergy, it was the very name ‘chaplain’ that created a barrier towards understanding the kind of support I might be able to offer.

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” And the question I have been asking myself is whether ‘chaplain’ is a helpful title to give to the people who carry out the broad sweep of supportive work that we know chaplains are often engaged in?

Over recent years I have heard of a number of organisations in the public sector and the business world that have dismissed or rejected support or services from any group that seems to have a faith dimension at its heart. What has happened to have caused those organisations to have such a negative response to any offers to help?

Whilst there may be all sorts of reasons for such a response, perhaps – just like the conversation I described – at the heart of the problem is the mismatch between perception and reality. We say: “We’re the church – or mosque or gudwara or temple – and we’d like to help.” They hear: “We’re the, whatever, and in exchange for some support we want you to adopt our beliefs.”

Somehow, we have to demonstrate that our support and help is unconditional. At the height of the pandemic, people of goodwill – of all faiths, and none – freely offered all sorts of help as a gift to their neighbours. And that help was gratefully received.

As a nation, we are in the middle of preparations for Christmas. The reality of Christmas can be very different from the way it might be presented in tv adverts or glossy magazines. For some, it’s an opportunity to meet with friends and family; for others, Christmas underlines their sense of loneliness. For some, it’s an excuse to indulge to excess, for others the empty cupboard has an even hollower echo.

For some, there will be gifts galore, for others there will be nothing,
For the Christian, the season of Advent has just started. It is also about preparing for Christmas. But this preparation is not about frantic buying and overindulging. Rather it is about expectant waiting. Waiting for a gift. We don’t know what the gift will truly look like nor how it will affect us. But it will be freely offered, with no strings attached.

As people of faith, and in our roles as chaplains, we have a part to play in sharing this gift – of a full and worthwhile life – with those around us, freely, unconditionally, with no expectation of any reward for doing so. There may be difficulties, people may misunderstand our motives. But let’s not be discouraged.

May this Christmas time present an opportunity to draw a challenging year to an end and space to anticipate what lies before you.
 
Revd. Michael Page, Trustee, CWC

Changing Values

By Jane Thompson CWC
 
Reading the news in the last week or so it seems to me that the fallout from the pandemic is starting to show very clearly in people’s shift in values. 

A recent article I read really brought this home to me, with an article stating 16 million workers plan to change jobs in the next six months. The number one reason behind this statistic? More than half, or 59%, of workers say their mental health is driving them to change jobs. Over half the workforce (51%) feels they are less than a month away from burnout.

Although a small sample of the population, I imagine this statistic is a good indication of general feelings in the workforce right now. It is an Employee’s market – people up and down the country are demanding flexible working (in the varying forms this can take). This is worrying times for Businesses and HR Managers as they battle to recruit good staff on one hand but equally on the other hand are trying to reassure and support existing staff during the pandemic.

The current change in values and work-life balance can be summed up in this conversation I overheard this week between two parents;

Parent 1: ‘So are you not missing the International Travel?’

Parent 2: ‘Not really to be honest! We have all adapted, it is a more balanced life now between work and home life. I am home and part of our family routine more and it suits all of us much better – why would I want to adapt again? I would lose the new habits and go back to how things were, which wouldn’t be a positive move at all – things are so much better nowadays’.

The data makes this even more pertinent; earlier this year the Health and Safety Executive published research which found 43% of all sick days are taken now due to work-related stress and burnout.

This must be the wake up call to all of us – employers, business owners, managers and employees; we all have to take health and wellbeing seriously, not just as a basic human function

Humans and Resilience

By Alastair Reid, CWC
 
Apparently September has been one of the warmest since records began, thank goodness after a disappointing August. Now we’re dealing with the stark complications caused by political dogma and intransigence in dealing with, among other issues, the supply chain.

I spoke about pressure and stress last time, pressure and stress are part of the human condition. Where these cause issues are where we don’t have the available resources to enable us to cope.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has caused /revealed mental health issues in an unusually stark way. Thank goodness we, as a culture, are beginning to be more comfortable in talking about this, I say beginning advisedly, as we have millennia of prejudicial attitudes to overcome.

Humanity is essentially a resilient and creative species, a species that wouldn’t be populating the planet otherwise. Homo Sapiens have evolved over millions of years, adjusting with the planet as it evolved, working out the best ways of surviving on a day to day basis. It could be argued that the rate of change has accelerated during the last two hundred years or so, however, this outline form of change shouldn’t be confused with evolution. Perhaps a better word might be development – this development being very location specific.

We may be developed in many ways, however, humanity is relatively undeveloped when considering its response ability to some events, especially when these are threatening, especially life/species threatening. The essential life preserving response mechanisms are, for want of a better word, basic and  are dependent for effectiveness on many factors, such as needing good physical and mental health and needing resilience.

In the developed state which I’ve tried to describe, humanity has needed other response mechanisms, and the pandemic has exposed/highlighted mental health issues and consequences. Recognising and learning how to create resilience has only recently started to be discussed. It is important the two are not confused.

How does this translate into our work supporting the Workplace? It’s important we recognise and understand the difficulties and consequences that have and are being experienced and how and where we can be most effective.

We’re in direct contact with employees, employers and the self employed. We hear their concerns, we hear about when they can’t cope, we hear about when they collapse as a result of the pressures they have experienced. Fortunately, due to this more open culture, more personal accounts and honesty about health – much more than in the recent past where most of this would never have been admitted. Progress has been made but there is still a long way to go to change mindsets.

CWC’s body of knowledge enables us to engage with the emerging challenges of, for example, employers and hybrid working. We constantly seek to find ways of engaging with and helping our significant numbers of self employed. Our Workplace Wellbeing Hub has been a universal hit with whoever has seen it, we can all help in actively promoting this.

Our chaplains continue to give the care and compassion needed, sometimes at great emotional cost to themselves. They have been and continue to be under significant pressure, for which they have our total support.

There are interesting times ahead, the workplace could be better for many, work life balance should be encouraged to be more balanced, organisations will I’m sure see the overall benefits, but vigilance about mental health is very important.  
  
Alastair Ure Reid, Chair CWC

Where to Now?

By Paul Hills, Vice-Chair, CWC
 
We seem to be in a strange position in work and in life generally at present.  The pandemic is still here, but things seem to be easing.  The lockdown has been handed over to personal action, but what does that mean in reality?  Are we getting back to work “normally” or is there a new normal to be found?  If so, who decides what it will look like and how will it be implemented?  And, when all this is over (whatever that means) how do we stop something similar happening again?
 
I recently came across an article by an Australian academic, Glenn Varona entitled “Ethics and the resilient society: examining the role of ethics in building societal resilience”.  Ethics is certainly something that should occupy a work-place chaplain.  Issues of right and wrong, justice and fairness all impact on the workplace.  Varona suggests there are two ethical elements needed for society to weather profound disruption:-trust and accountability and the latter he further defines as “shared responsibility”.  It struck me that in answering the question “Where to now?” these elements are very important.  In the lockdown trust in one another was largely replaced by government edict about what we should do, wear (face masks) and how to associate with one another.  Responsibility was reduced to keeping the rules.  Now government has stepped back and we have to re-establish trust and shared responsibility.
 
As the new workplace “normal” emerges, how do we encourage the growth of these ethical attitudes?  Chaplains would seem to be well-placed to help this.  Their work depends largely on developing trust with employers and employees.  They don’t have any “axes to grind” about management and unions (or shouldn’t have!).  They are seen as having a caring role (hopefully!).  All this should help them help those they serve address the issues of building trust and shared responsibility as the “new normal” emerges.
 
So, how could we go about promoting the growth and nurturing of these two ethical realties? No doubt there would need to be some reflection upon how these are functioning already in any particular workplace.  Seeking to heighten awareness of them would be another step.  The use of and strengthening of relationships within any given setting would be needed as well.  Given all that has happened in the lockdown, all this will be a challenge with less use of workplaces for actual work and the general attenuation of relationships.  But if a new normal is to emerge which does not result in friction and possible conflict, this is a challenge that will have to be met.
 
Where to now?  No doubt everyone reading this article will have some experience or views to share about this.  Please do that by feedback to CWC and sharing what you have with whatever colleagues you may have.  CWC has regular monthly online sessions for chaplaincy support.  Questions could be asked there and experience shared.  So,…..where to now?
 
Paul Hills, Vice-Chair CWC

Has anything ‘good’ come out of lockdowns?

By Clive Morton, Vice-Chair, CWC

“Devastating” and “unprecedented” are terms that have been repeatedly used (some would say over-used) throughout the pandemic. The experience for so many has been dire and it’s easy to see this past 18 months in very negative terms.

However, there are positive outcomes and I’d like to share one of those experiences from Peterborough.

Along with other local authorities during 2020, Peterborough City Council (PCC) were struggling to engage effectively with communities and individuals, particularly those isolated at home. The Council needed to get ‘Covid messages across’ and were struggling.

We have a wide range of ethnic communities in Peterborough and, in parallel, strong membership of world religions. Peterborough has had a long history of Inter Faith links and a pattern of strong partnerships between the Council and volunteer organisations including those associated with the Faiths.

Jawaid Khan, Head of Community Resilience and Integration for PCC, approached Rev Canon Tim Alban Jones, Vice Dean at the Cathedral, with the idea of setting up an Inter Faith Support Group (IFSG) with the objective of addressing the Covid issues and working in partnership with PCC and volunteer organisations. Tim Alban Jones took up the challenge and very swiftly set up and coordinated membership of the IFSG establishing fortnightly Zoom meetings and those meetings have met right up to the current time.

The prime objective was to communicate to and between the faiths on the situation with the pandemic and to aid this Dr Tony Jewell, public health consultant to PCC, attended each meeting bringing powerful epidemiological data from the ‘big picture’ right down to ‘drilling down’ detail on Peterborough and its districts and ethnic communities. Apart from the data on the pandemic, opportunities were taken to introduce to the group experts on current community issues where help, action and partnership was needed.
This support group became a self-managing social action forum facing up to the presented and discovered issues and suggesting and implementing solutions that crossed boundaries, engaging each Faith and the related voluntary organisations.

There were many products of the deep relationships established. For example, work across the faiths to provide for the homeless and rough sleepers – Muslim based charities and restaurants, the Sikh Gurdwara, all providing meals for Light Project Peterborough, a Christian charity caring for the homeless and rough sleepers, who were then housed in hotels by government. Later, Mosques and churches became information hubs, testing centres and eventually vaccination centres.

The core topics were getting the Covid messages across; and implementing policies to tackle infection including spot lighting ‘hard to reach groups’ and those lagging behind in the vaccination programme. However these new connections also embraced an amazing range of shared issues such as:

  • Chaplaincy and the work of CWC – including the helpline for those isolated work from home and the self-employed. Through the partnership with the Council CWC was able to develop the Workplace Wellbeing Hub website with links for mental health support. www.workplacewellbeing.org.uk Also, the City Centre Chaplaincy model, that has operated for some years, is now being extended through the partnership with PCC to other townships and communities in Peterborough
  • Fostering – identifying needs and connections.
  • APPG Faith and Society guidance on partnerships – research on local government experience. Support for food banks. Access to those isolated.
  • Public Health and use of worship space – preventative measures during lockdown.
  • Issues of domestic abuse and training for those interacting with such situations.
  • Crafting for Well-being
  • Organising the Census 2021.
  • Links to Policing priorities, in particular for any outdoor events as restrictions eased.
  • Funding opportunities for community groups and faith organisations
  • An opportunity to be a trustee of ‘Headway’
  • Investing in Mental Healthcare for Minority Ethnic Groups in Peterborough.
  • Protection of places of worship against hate crime. Action against hate. SAFE. ‘We Stand Together’ – tackling hate crime on the transport network. Safety in Ramadan.
  • Access to Social Prescribing
  • ‘Stop Suicide’ training (CWC organised)
  • Samaritans – access and volunteering
  • “What may happen as we come out of lockdown” (CWC)

We have all been amazed at what has been achieved from the ‘mustard seed’ of the approach from Jawaid to Tim.

Now, the challenge to build further on this!

Clive Morton Vice-Chair CWC

Creating a conducive workplace for staff wellbeing

By Peter Thatcher, Treasurer, CWCAs more and more organisations are planning for their employees to return to the workplace on a more regular basis, time is likely to be well spent thinking about the work environment that their employees will return to. Much has been written and discussed over the past few months about employee well-being and the need for employers to create a supportive environment for their staff.

As I was musing over this, I was reminded of a client of mine from a few years ago. The client was a financial services company based in the centre of London and they occupied two floors of a very nice office building. The company had gone to great lengths to create a physical environment where people were encouraged to talk, to take time out from their desk and even to take some exercise. Three things that they did have stayed with me over the years.

  1. There was an amazing spiral staircase linking the two floors. The company had installed it themselves on the basis that they wanted people to walk between floors, rather than use the lifts, so that it increased the chance of interaction with colleagues as they passed each other on the stairs. Plus there was the added benefit of encouraging people to exercise while walking up and down the staircase.
  2. They also created a number of seating areas throughout the two floors, in different alcoves and spaces, with comfy seats of varying colours and styles. People were encouraged to use them as an alternative to sitting at their desks, to use them to take some time out for reflection, creative thinking and for chats with colleagues.
  3. And, finally, they had a small coffee bar, which also sold snacks, on one of the floors. Nice idea, but the genius point (I thought) was that they closed it at lunchtime. You might immediately think that odd, to close at one of the busiest times of the day. The logic was quite simple. It was to encourage people to leave the office and walk somewhere to buy lunch rather than simply grab something from the coffee bar and eat while sitting at their desks.

And all of these things worked. They had an engaged, motivated team of people and there was a real buzz about the place. Everything that an employer should want.
Of course, these initiatives cost a lot of money and not every organisation can afford to do what they did, but in these times where the focus is, and should be, on staff well-being, maybe more organisations should devote some time to think creatively about what can be done to create a physical environment that is conducive for people to pause, exercise and chat.