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

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.

Online seminars and workshops:

Wellbeing topics, reflection, chaplaincy and more…


Here is a selection of online events (July – autumn) that we spotted are coming up which may interest supporters and Chaplains alike; covering a range of topics relevant to work, spirituality and more.

Ageing and spirituality  
3rd July (there is a registration fee to attend)

Faced with the norm of seeing ageing as despair and fragility, we explore ageing as a source of wisdom, joy and growth through Spirituality.

Lighting up eternity in the midst of work and life 
5th July (small charge to attend)

A time of visual and verbal reflection based on the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh. This lunchtime event will be accessible to Christians of all denominations and to people of all faiths and none.

Can we overcome rhetoric and address the tensions of workplace wellbeing? 
6th July (free to attend)

This webinar will pose several questions – such as: Are you a wellbeing donkey? Or is your work becoming more of a health burden? In the webinar we will explore what is wellbeing, can it be measured and better understood? What research is taking place to fully understand workload pressures and how these effect our mental, and physical wellbeing?

Safeguarding Adults – Strengthening Faith Institutions
6th July
Strengthening Faith Institutions is running online training on Tuesday 6 July on ‘Safeguarding Adults: An Introduction’.  The webinar runs from 3pm to 4pm.

Listen to the World Open Mic Night
6th July

St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace is hosting an Open Mic event on Tuesday 6 July on ‘Listen to the World’.  It will be an evening where the musical traditions and talents of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers find a home among local artists. It is being held from 6.30pm to 8.00pm. For more information, contact Jo Winsloe Slater at jowinsloe@stethelburgas.org or register in advance here

Neurodiversity in the Workplace. 
8th July (free to attend)

A virtual webinar event for professionals looking to understand more about Neurodiversity in the workplace. The term Neurodiversity encompasses (among others) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger’s and Tourette ’s syndrome. In the workplace, often there is a fear and stigma about employees whose brains work differently which does nothing to help the employee or employer. In this webinar we will review the key aspects and best-practice regarding disability discrimination.

Self-care for staff and volunteers 
13th July and other dates available, usually one per month (free to attend)

It is essential that as a volunteer, you are putting the same care and love towards yourself as you would towards the programs you serve. Join this monthly session to hear how others are managing under pressure and, if you wish, share your stories. Hear some tips and strategies for Self-Care from a trained counsellor, with opportunities for further support if you need it.

Returning to the workplace – employee wellbeing 
14th July (free to attend)

As restrictions are starting to ease many of us will be swapping our home offices, kitchen tables, trackies and slippers and returning to workplaces over the coming months. If you have been working from home, or managing staff who will going back to the workplace it can feel like a big change and for many a daunting challenge, it may well be very different from what you previously experienced. In this session we will be sharing some practices that may help you with upcoming transitions.

Bereavement Friendly Church  
14th July (free to attend)

Run by Ataloss.org this session helps individuals and religious leaders consider accessibility to the many bereaved people in their communities. The learning from this webinar can be applied to chaplaincy such as in prisons, hospitals and Universities/colleges.

Hannah Malcolm – ‘Grief and Courage in a Dying World’
15 July (free to attend)

Hannah Malcolm is currently training for ordained ministry and writing a PhD on theology, climate and ecological grief. She campaigns around the subject of climate justice and recently edited a book entitled Words for a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church (SCM Press, 2020). This event is part of Heaven & Earth at Ely Cathedral Tickets are free, but please book a place here. If you can’t join us in person, the talk will be live streamed.

Meditation in the Christian tradition – weekly practice sessions 
Saturdays, weekly (free to attend)

Meditation in the Christian tradition is a very ancient and very simple way of prayer. It is a way of being fully present to the gift of our life, each other and God. It’s about establishing peace in ourselves so we can be places of peace in the world. Each session will involve a short talk, a period of silent meditation practice and an opportunity questions and conversation.Happy people – healthy workplaces 
24th August (free to attend)

Organised by Workplace Chaplaincy Scotland this seminar will help you to consider the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’ of engaging with wellbeing in the workplace. ‘Why’ explores how happy employees benefit the workforce and the ‘How’ explores the role of senior managers and line management in enabling a happy environment.

What is Mindfulness? Buddhist Roots of a Modern Movement 
14th October (£17 to attend)

This two-hour talk will cover the fascinating roots of mindfulness. Mindfulness is used widely in the world today. But, how did these practices come about? Mindfulness is useful everywhere, so the Buddha said. Using Early Buddhist Texts, this session will focus on the Buddhist foundations of Mindfulness. 

Love @ Work


It could be a slogan for Work Chaplaincy. But it isn’t! It’s the title of a book about the 100 years of the Industrial Christian Fellowship (Love@Work – Ian Randall, Phil Jump, John Weaver – DLT – 2020). 

Its forerunners, the Navvy Mission Society (1877) and the Christian Social Union (1889) joined together in 1920 to become the ICF. 

The book details a fascinating history of social thought and action by Christians. Included in its history is the work of G.A. Studdert Kennedy, perhaps better known as “Woodbine Willy” the First World War chaplain and poet. Much of what it has been about could be termed a form of workplace chaplaincy.  The history talks of sacrificial practical action by individuals and groups. It also tells of challenges to institutional religion to take seriously the social needs of workers and to industry to take seriously the spiritual, social and emotional needs of workers. 

Quotes from Studdert Kennedy make clear some of the values and mission of the Fellowship. Faith “does not relieve us from the duty of thought…It does not put an end to research and enquiry, it gives a basis from which real research is made possible and fruitful of results; a basis without which thinking means wandering round in circles, and getting nowhere in the end, and research means battering at a brass door that bruises our knuckles, and does not yields by a millionth part of an inch.” (p.55)

On the place of organised religion, in this case the Christian church, “If the Church is to be the Church, and not a mere farce – and a peculiarly pernicious farce, a game of sentimental make-believe – she must be filled to overflowing with the fire of the ancient prophets for social righteousness, with the wrath and love of Christ.” (p.57)

In these words we hear, an awareness of the need for a holistic approach to work life which includes social, emotional and spiritual needs, a challenge to religion to take seriously the life lived at work, based on experience not sentiment, a driving passion for justice and the good of all.

These don’t seem a bad summary of how workplace chaplaincy might perform!

Given our present context of pandemic, we have been appraising how we might continue to be in contact with people in the workplace now that so many work from home and covid makes personal contact so difficult. Perhaps we should also be reflecting on some of the issues raised in the historic ICF approach.

Are we “speaking truth to power” over the injustices and inequalities the pandemic has underscored? 

Is there a “prophetic” element to chaplaincy directed both to the religious and the secular?

Are we sufficiently energised by a vision of meeting the whole needs of people, emotional and spiritual as well as material? 

The mental burden of lockdown cannot be underestimated, nor the hollowing out of spiritual sensitivity that it is bringing. 
We have seen the best of people in the dedication of the NHS and of the myriad of volunteers giving time and energy to help their communities.  But we have also seen the worst in the carelessness and selfishness of some, the outright and ignorant denial of the problem by others and the slovenliness (at least) of some government decisions.  What does workplace chaplaincy have to say and do in the light of all this? 

As the pandemic begins, please God, to fade these are questions and issues we need to face if the work of chaplaincy is to be relevant post-covid. 

What are your thoughts and views on this?  Please let us know what they are. There is a future as well as a present in which the whole range of human need must be addressed, physical, mental, social and spiritual.  Love@Work requires our passionate engagement. 

Tells us about yours and let us share what we know and have for a better future in the workplace.  Paul Hills, Vice-Chairman. CWC

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

The Past is a Different Country

Today, as November ends and December begins, across the UK the numbers of people affected by COVID19 have been rising dramatically. Even now, we are hoping the recent lockdown may have slowed the spread of the virus. While the emergence of possible vaccines is giving us some cautious reason for optimism, we know that it will be a long time before we are out of the woods. The situation in Cambridgeshire is a microcosm of the national picture.

We’ve heard about the different areas of life in our county: hospitals – especially intensive care units – in danger of being overwhelmed; schools constantly having to reorganise their ways of working; some businesses facing imminent insolvency or bankruptcy with employees being made redundant whilst others are so busy that they don’t have time to think; prisoners being locked up almost around the clock; police officers trying to understand and implement frequently changing regulations; and local government officials battling with ever increasing demands on rapidly dwindling resources. And there will be others known to each one of us.

Although the present circumstances are unprecedented in our recent history, it is times of stress and trauma that underline the need for someone who can be ‘present’ for those who are struggling with the pressures of life; someone who can offer listening ears and words of encouragement and guidance. And that, surely, is what the ministry of chaplaincy has always been about?

How can those who are chaplains fulfil that ministry when the pressures on host organisations are so great, and not just financial pressures, although those will be a factor. There are so many challenges for chaplains who want to walk alongside those in the various workplaces where they have a role. But it is not something that is easy to do at the moment, when people have to socially distance and wear masks that muffle their voices. You can’t have a confidential discussion with someone when you have to shout through a face covering to someone who is six feet away.

It seems as though the pressure on government to ‘move things on’ has been amplified because of the desire to be able to celebrate Christmas in some sort of traditional fashion. But, deep down, probably most of us realise that there will be no return to that which was there before. In the notable opening words of (one-time Peterborough resident) L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between:

‘The past is a different country: they do things differently there.’

L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between

The normal in future is going to be very different to the way it was.

Over the past few months many people will have started to interact with their doctor, their supermarket, their bank, their children’s school, even their place of faith or worship, via the medium of the internet. However, even as these interactions take place, there is a recognition that there is something missing. No matter how good our electronic device nor how fast our broadband connection is, there is something of the muffled shouting through a face covering about it. We are rediscovering that it is the personal contact, the soothing voice, the fleeting smile, the gentle touch on the arm, that makes all the difference.

Today, as November ends and December begins, we are starting the season of Advent. Contrary to popular belief, Advent is not about putting up the Christmas decorations and opening calendars to find bits of chocolate. For Christians, Advent is a time for anticipating Christ’s return to earth, for desiring an immanent God to be present in this corner of creation.

The great German theologian Dietrich Boenhoffer, who was tortured and died in a Nazi concentration camp for speaking out against Hitler’s horrors, said that “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”

If there ever was a time for people to be troubled in soul and to know themselves to be poor and imperfect it is now. But Advent is also surely the time for us to sing:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

A prayer: Almighty God – we hold before you at this Advent season those who hold roles as chaplains in our county; those whose desire it is to walk alongside people with a whole variety of needs. Compassionate God, may our chaplains be aware of your firm and constant embrace as they minister to those they stand with at this difficult time. Amen.

(Photo by Smart on Unsplash)