Chaplaincy and Contemporary Spirituality

I was privileged on behalf of CWC to join a Zoom Chaplaincy Conference in November run by Norwich Chaplaincy with the above title. It was led by Rev Dr Andrew Todd, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology, Anglia Ruskin University.

I found it challenging on the role of chaplaincy and very relevant to today’s situation, so thought the essence worth sharing with you.

Andrew started the session with a sketch picture of the contemporary view of ‘spirituality’ – of how the population might see it or desire it – “the basic human capacity for transcendence….towards the horizon of ultimate value” (Sandra Schneiders ‘Approaches to the study of Christian Spirituality’)

Human experience might come from an increasing variety of sources:

  • From traditional religion
  • Be connected with ‘place’ eg. St Ninian’s cave, Galloway; Skara Brae, Orkney
  • From ‘New Age’ or ’alternative’ spiritualities
  • Arising in popular culture eg. Ianto’s Shrine, Cardiff Bay
  • Interwoven with consumerism eg. shop called ‘Rituals’ at St Pancras Station
  • Marking life events: eg. relationship: commitment, or death: increase in flowers at the roadside: the ‘Diana’ effect.

Chaplaincy needs to recognise the innate desire for spirituality, not necessarily connected with religion. This is recognised and integrated in statements of purpose in our chaplaincies eg

‘Listening to the patient’s experience and the questions that may arise; affirming the patient’s humanity; protecting the patient’s dignity, self-worth and identity….’ (NICE, 2004)

These developments mean that there is a challenge to traditional religions that demand conformity to a ‘higher truth’ as opposed to those that engage with the depths of personal experience. Not ‘affiliation’ but ‘connection’.

Andrew then developed the theme on contemporary and traditional spirituality by growth of ‘intersections’ such as:

Mindfulness; Contemplative Prayer; Contemplation; Transcending the self, leading to the contrasting religious approaches of ‘Solid Modernity’ and ‘Liquid Modernity’ (Bauman, Zygmunt, ‘Liquid Modernity, Cambridge Polity Press 2000)

The pandemic has accelerated many of the features of ‘Liquid Modernity’ into current faith practice:

  • Livestreamed worship
  • Zoom meditation
  • Zoom coffee/sherry
  • Fellowship Groups
  • Taize livestreamed prayer
  • ‘Connected’ communities – more connected via Zoom than returning to socially-distanced worship?

These themes were brought together to provide the challenge to chaplaincy today:

Chaplaincy can be seen as occupying the space between a ‘Faith Community’ and ‘The Organisation’ within the overall envelope of ‘Society’.

Society contributes Public norms and Cultural values and practices.

Chaplaincy has to deal with some big challenges which our readers will recognise:

  • Understanding (setting, faith community, society)
  • Translating, being bilingual, doing dialogue
  • Working with expectations
  • Knowing how to care, nurture the sacred in diverse secular contexts
  • Living on, crossing and subverting boundaries
  • Living at the intersections of religion, spirituality and the secular
  • Holding, enabling and shaping

When looking at the theological implications of chaplaincy today, Andrew summarised with the following:

  • God’s presence and action in the world – God present and active in contemporary spirituality
  • Missio Dei and the dynamics of mission
  • Theology of dialogue (as part of mission)
  • Ecclesiology – is chaplaincy marginal or central?
  • Discipleship – formation for what?…in what?
  • Ministry – building up the church and service of the world

I hope these snippets will provoke some thought and challenges from our readers, and no doubt Andrew will be interested in such outcome!

Should you wish to delve further into the much longer material and references Andrew has discovered in his research then CWC can make the necessary connections.

Canon Professor Clive Morton OBE, Vice-Chairman. CWC

Published by

Jane Thompson

Jane Thompson, Freelance Marketing Consultant

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