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)

What do we do now?

What do we do now?

With the Covid-19 crisis there are plenty of restrictions on what chaplains can and cannot do.  What do you do when a lot of people are “home-working”?  How do you help those being furloughed or even made redundant?  Things have eased up somewhat, but as I write, there is talk of new restrictions, a “circuit-break”.

Recently I took part in a quiet day on Zoom with a number of volunteers in chaplaincy. At one point what do we do now came up.  A number of suggestions were made.

  1. Find some open space that can be used to meet, like a nearby garden. In a hospital context this may well work for relatives unable to spend much time with patients.  Other contexts might be able to find some space too.  A poster on a notice board about the “space” might help.
  2. Use modern technology might help with things like “Facetime” and various video calling apps. Where the work is within a factory or office, the managers could be given a phone number and asked to circulate it carefully to those needing time with a chaplain.  There could be privacy issues here, but they might be ameliorated. There is always the CWC Listening Line too!
  3. Maybe this is a time to develop some of our own skills. CWC is looking at accessing appropriate webinars about mental health etc which could help this.
  4. There is always prayer, and not as a last resort! Chaplains work is not just about face to face contacts (although we all want more of them!).  Holding people and situations in the peace of God in prayer may be one of our main callings at present.  In a world where there is so much uncertainty and anxiety, finding quiet, calm, restful places, whether external or internal, would seem to be essential. Can chaplains find ways to help this happen?  And, this work of prayer is no soft option when there is so much pain around.  But it certainly needs to be done.

These are some things that arose out of one conversation.  So, what do you think?  What have you tried?  Perhaps the other thing we can do at the moment is share ideas.  This newsletter can be a forum for that or there may be other ways to be explored.

What do we do now?

What do you think?

Revd. Paul Hills, Vice Chair, CWC

Faith in Work

What has been the experience of Christians in the Workplace? 

Clive Morton, CWC Vice-Chair for Peterborough, has been working with Paul Ballard (former trustee) and Rev John Rackley, past president of the Baptist Union, on a project to discover the faith experience of Christians in the workplace, and offers this summary of methodology and findings of the project for the interest of readers of the CWC newsletter.

Paul Ballard’s article with much fuller detail can be found at www.umbrianretreats.com

Abstract: A group of sixteen people from a wide range of professions responded to the invitation to reflect, in writing or by interview, on their faith journey, with stress on how their faith was related to and shaped by their work life.

This article by Paul Ballard attempts to draw out, under a number of headings, ‘Roots and Shoots’, ‘the Cantus Firmus’, ‘Spirituality’, features of their experience. Some attention is given to how their faith/work self-understanding relates to their experience of ‘church’. The final paragraphs suggest that this is a small but key contribution to the contemporary interest in ‘ordinary theology’ and workplace chaplaincy.

Introduction
This small and loosely structured project stemmed from a conversation between two of the authors, longstanding friends, on the terrace of an Italian holiday apartment. Thinking back over the years, the question arose as to how one, an engineer and manager and academic, with experience in industry and public service, had sustained his Christian faith. This led them to wondering, especially in a strongly secular society, where religion is marginalised, what it means to be a person of faith as a professional (taking that in the widest sense) today. On returning home, these thoughts were shared with the third author. It was agreed to see whether there was any mileage in enquiring more closely into the question. Initial conversations with a number of acquaintances found an enthusiastic response, suggesting that this was indeed a matter both of personal interest to those contacted and of possible theological and pastoral importance.
Rather than setting up a formal structured project, it was decided, within the resources available, to follow a more informal approach. Individuals with the relevant kinds of experience were asked to reflect on their experience in writing.

A short introduction to the project was prepared, the key sentences of which were:

“The place of religion in western society has been highly contested. …. Yet many, not least in professional circles, have a strong Christian faith which must have, in some way, have been integrated into their engagement in the public sphere through work and wider social activities. However, this has been a neglected theme ….. and little is known about how faith has been worked out in this context. Yet surely it is of interest, not only for a greater understanding of how religion works out in the contemporary context, but also pastorally and practically in the community of faith. We are asking you to describe your faith journey in relation to your life story and how your religious life has enhanced and/or been challenged by experience.”

The respondent was asked to react to the following questions:

  • Who and what shaped your values and faith?
  • What have been the significant episodes in your work life?
  • What differences have your faith/values/spirituality made to you and how, in the public sphere, you have approached the work roles you have undertaken?
  • What difference has the workplace etc. made to your faith/values/spirituality and any religious allegiance you may have?

A list of possible contacts across a range of professional groups and similar activities was drawn up. While there was an attempt to have as representative spread as possible, the approach was through personal contact, whether direct or indirectly, and therefore reflects the immediate circle of the authors, despite efforts to counteract that. It was clear that this was never going to be a calibrated sample, only a ‘straw vote’; but one that might be expanded on in the future. Some two dozen persons were approached. Thirteen responded positively, which with the three authors, made sixteen in all, covering a surprisingly wide spectrum of professional interest, even if there are some obvious omissions.

Concluding reflection
This small exercise has produced a wealth of personal story. Setting then side by side, it has been possible to see how they relate to the experience of the wider faith community. Each, too, makes their own peculiar contribution as to how the faith is worked out in both the contemporary Church and the economic and professional spheres.

The first thing, therefore, to say is that it has been a privilege to be able to hear these particular voices. Each such story is of importance, though too often they are lost in the corporate reality of being church, except, possibly, when the subject of personal pastoral concern. But the corporate life of the Body of Christ does not simply stand over/against the individuals involved but is made up and made real in the lives of countless individuals. This has been the concern of the so-called ordinary theology; to articulate and recognise the reality and importance of the everyday beliefs and experience of ‘ordinary’ Christians. Ordinary theology has been defined as ‘the theological beliefs and processes of believing that finds expression in the God-talk of those believers who have received no scholarly theological education’. (Ref. Astley and Francis) That is, it attempts to articulate the active faith and practices of the believer (and this surely includes the theologically articulate) as they respond to the reality of the revelation and presence of God in and through life’s journey in the fellowship of the Church. There is a dialectic here; the faith of the Church as received, usually through the official media, and the affirmed faith reality of the believer. There is a constant dialogue, at every level, shaping and exploring what the faith means and where the Spirit is taking us today, both at the Church’s structural level and for each individual or group. The consensus fidelium is very much part of the theological arena. The gospel has to be articulated afresh in every time and place.

The primary concern of the project was to look at the relation between faith and one’s profession. It would seem, however, that this concern is on the margins of the Church’s perspective, though it has been very much at the heart of post-war Industrial Mission (now referred to as Workplace Chaplaincy), especially in the era of rapid de-industrialisation in the eighties. (see: Brown and Ballard; Ballard; Torrey) Interestingly only two of the respondents referred to chaplaincy work as influential in their experience and there were hints that church life and daily work are too often separated experientially.

If, however, work can be defined as our formal contribution to and support by society then it is at the heart of our self-understanding. Indeed, we are often defined by ‘what we do’! It is, therefore, an essential dimension of the Church’s ministry, to be aware of and supportive of those embedded in the pressures and opportunities of work, not least professional work, and to listen in order to discern the Spirit’s working in society.

In fact there is an upsurge of interest in chaplaincy work, mainly as a means of extending the pastoral ministry, which should be taken seriously by the wider Church; and for those so engaged to be able to articulate something of the riches and challenges of serving Christ in the economic structures of society.

So, what we have here is the contribution of a small group of professional people, the majority of whom have for the first time been asked to tell of their journey of faith. They deserve to be heard and to be drawn into the wider theological debate.

Paul Ballard, Clive Morton and John Rackley.