A season to give, in time and resource

In the Christian calendar we have entered Lent when, traditionally, we are encouraged over the next 40 days to ‘give up’ something significant.

For many this will be, perhaps, giving up alcohol, cream cakes, chocolate or some such indulgence!

For others, this can be a time for contemplation and reflection – an escape from the everyday pressures and putting things into context.

The context for the period of Lent this year is one of upheaval, whether on a domestic or international front. The media is full of deeply worrying news on the war in Ukraine and on the successive earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. In terms of ‘giving up’ many, thank goodness, will be donating to charities that are providing much needed help and assistance. Long may that continue.

On the domestic scene, the cost of living crisis has created many opportunities for us to be involved in supporting individuals and local communities. Many churches, mosques and gurdwaras have had the opportunity of becoming “Community Hubs” during the Winter (and now into Spring) which has put congregations into contact with a whole range of guests/clients from an eclectic variety of backgrounds. To many of the volunteers who provide food, a listening ear and friendship in the Community Hubs, this experience has been a revelation. The stimulus for such hubs was initially to provide ‘warm spaces’ for folk who were struggling with the escalating fuel bills, and still that applies: however, volunteers discovered a whole range of unmet needs, where ‘signposting’ to help was what was needed. Now, with the infrastructure of the Community Hubs established, local and health authorities are attempting to extend the scope of the hubs to hosting ‘health awareness’ and routes to vaccination programmes for the ‘guest/client population’ that each hub has accrued.

This reminds me of the context in which chaplaincy typically operates. The workplace provides the context; the chaplain is the ‘volunteer’ – available, “loitering with intent” (!) as so often encapsulated; the workforce is the population with unmet needs, requiring friendship and a listening ear.

May this season of Lent be a blessing to those who give in time and resource; those who exercise their chaplaincy skills and also to those who receive the giving, listening and support.

Canon Professor Clive Morton OBE
Vice Chair CWC

Should Mental Health First Aid become Law?

A new law requiring businesses to offer mental health first aid training has been presented to parliament.

As stated in the press in January; Tory MP Dean Russell told the Commons the move will lead to more people spotting the early signs of mental health issues in the workplace.

Many businesses already offer mental health training to first aiders, but it is not a legal requirement.

Mr Russell told MPs that requiring mental health first aid training in the workplace would save lives.

“People do not always wear bandages to show where they have anxiety and depression,” he told MPs.

“This Bill will simply mean that workers have a person to signpost them to the help and support they need, when they need it.”

The idea has been discussed for several years. In 2018, a petition for the “Where’s Your Head At!” campaign for a mandatory mental health first aider in every place of work attracted more than 200,000 signatures.

The extra training would come at a cost to businesses, but campaigners highlight the growing number of workdays lost to poor mental health.

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that mental illness accounted for around half of all cases of sick leave last year .

‘Prevent losing others’

Mr Russell believes the change could limit the long-term impact on businesses and the NHS, and ultimately save lives.

“We cannot bring back those we have lost,” he said.

“But through early intervention and ensuring the right signposting at the right time, through this Bill we could possibly prevent losing others in the future.”

Mr Russell proposed the new law as a Ten Minute Rule Bill last week – there is rarely enough time for Ten Minute Rule Bills to become law – but they represent an avenue for MPs to raise awareness of issues.

Mr Russel attempt to bring forward similar legislation in 2021, but the Bill failed to go any further. Addressing the Health Minister directly, Mr. Russell said, “This is not a request that will go away and I will be back if needed. It is a simple change that will make a massive difference.”

What do you think? As people who care about the whole self we think this is an important step in recognising mental health is indeed about our overall health and is interlinked with physical health and overall wellbeing of a person.

A Place of Warmth and Rest

As a chaplain, how do you “see” what you are doing?  This question came to me after I’d read a reflection about the ministry of spiritual direction by John Rackley passed to me by a CWC colleague.  He wrote about this as

‘The task of the spiritual director is to be positioned, like a campfire in the wilderness, welcoming sojourners from all corners of life to stop, relax and yarn for a while.’

It’s an interesting image. It suggests hospitality, the provision of a place of welcome and safety. It suggests comfort in some sense, a place of warmth and rest. It suggests light in a setting where it is lacking, a place that provides guidance. It suggests a refuge, a place where I can be myself and sit back, relax and think over life.

It is arguable that many if not all of these could be applied to chaplaincy. Clearly what chaplaincy seeks to do is be a service. It focusses on those in the community it serves rather than any agendas of its own. So, it must discover what the needs are and that means hospitality and interest in those being served.

At the same time it is a spiritual service. That is not to say it ignores physical aspects of life because that is to misunderstand “spiritual” which takes seriously the integrated nature of our beings as physical, social, psychological and spiritual beings. It understands people to be more than their visible “substance” but values them as people with eternal significance given in their being created by a loving God.

So, how do we go about providing this in the working environment? Is there a physical place for hospitality, or is that simply in the person and availability of the chaplain? How can that be presented to the workforce? 

The images we have been looking at all seem to imply some sedentary space. I wonder if a chaplain is much more of a “moving space” taking the gift of listening, compassion, availability and reflection to whoever needs/wants it? I certainly find this is true of the day chaplaincy work I undertake at Ely Cathedral. “Loitering with intent” and simply talking to people about what they are looking at, or passing a word with staff on my perambulations generates space for light and warmth, hopefully!

It would be helpful to know how you work this out in your own setting. Let us know!  What’s your image of chaplaincy and how does it come to life for you? What you share will help others!  

Paul Hills
Vice-Chair, CWC

Confusion in the workforce and in the economy

Today , I’m considering the various economic stats and business news that I have seen and tried to comprehend within the strictures of not being an economist but having some business experience. 

We all know about inflation, we only have to look at our food bills. The same inflationary pressures are affecting every business, wage increases, goods and service costs rising, some at considerably higher rates than our domestic cost increases.

We hear that businesses are finding it difficult to fill vacancies, the observation – (a request from the CBI this week), was that the country needs to consider opening up more vacancies to overseas candidates. There are 0.5 million more on long term sickness than in 2019 which is now a total of 2.5 million who are not working due to long term sickness (source ONS) and our GDP fell last month.

I’m trying to work out how, despite economic pressures, there is a need for more employees, (admittedly these vacancies will be in particular sectors). This usually, is an indicator of a vibrant economy. All this to me, a relative layperson I find confusing.
To me, the world appears to be in confusion. Covid is still around, anecdotally I know more people who have had or have it than at the height of the pandemic. The after effects are very varied, some shrugging it off, some taking longer to fully recover and other where the effects appear to be permanent.

Taking workplaces as a specific example, employers and employees are trying to work out equable ways of working. Take for example employers who have insisted on a full time return to the office, some manage this despite employee resistance, (who knows the effect on employees), some employees refusing but reluctantly having to accept, with other employers and employees settling for a compromise. This is just one of the tensions. (I’m sure those who’s job requires them to be in a place of work, such as manufacturing, must wonder at all this). The positive is that there is now discussion on the benefits and the disadvantages of changed working practice.

As commented in previous Lead Articles in this newsletter, creating environments which enhance employee wellbeing is much higher up the employer agenda. This change in priority has happened very quickly, albeit that some workplaces who paid scant attention before have a greater understanding of how important it is for its people and for their business. There are of course many examples where it has been embedded in an employer’s culture for many years, sometimes decades. 

There is also the feeling of loss with which most have experienced in some shape or form, loss of family and friends, loss of security, health, young people’s loss of socialising, traditional education and many other manifestations.

The last couple of years have been a whirlwind of experiences, not all of them by any means adverse and some being noticeably life enhancing.  We all need to find our own bedrocks and build from there. We know in many cases this is not possible and has, and will cause difficulties with physical and mental health. It’s such a refreshing change knowing that there is, in most situations, no stigma about being open about personal mental health difficulties. However a lot more still needs to be done about creating a safe and secure culture where issues can be discussed without stigma and regretful consequences.

Although it feels as if we are being bounced around in new territory it’s important to remember that humanity is resilient and where allowed (within the context of a reasonably balanced and fair society), equable solutions can be found. Chaplains are a vital cog in this machinery, that is why are so committed  in supporting and promoting  chaplaincy in all its forms. 

Alastair Ure Reid

The pursuit of a meaningful life

The World Economics Forum recently shared the results of a study that examined happiness across 12 countries, and found that the pursuit of a meaningful life was universally important.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report, employee wellbeing is the new imperative for employers. Several prominent companies have appointed “chief happiness officers“, and the professional network LinkedIn lists more than 4,000 of them: international companies are increasingly embracing well-being and happiness initiatives as a way to retain employees in a tight labour market. Most corporate perks take the form of yoga classes, unlimited free snacks, or company retreats to ski resorts, while marketing departments try to support healthy habits related to their brands.

All of which is very nice, but does it really foster happiness? And – importantly for international companies – are wellness programs designed in Silicon Valley suited to employees in Italy, South Africa or Japan?

Many well-being initiatives take a view of happiness that is based on individual and pleasure-based benefits and ignores the cultural context. We examined happiness across 12 countries and found a universal need for managers to address more collective and meaningful aspects of happiness.

Traditional predictors of happiness and their limits

Social sciences research conceptualizes happiness as having two dimensions rooted in ancient Greek philosophy: hedonia and eudaimoniaA more recent study has defined these as follows: “the hedonic pathway to happiness is reached by maximizing one’s pleasurable moments, whereas the eudaimonic pathway to happiness relies on using and developing the best of oneself in the pursuit of the greater good, particularly the welfare of humankind.” This could also be described as pursuing a meaningful life.

Cross-cultural research on happiness may have exhibited a bias toward hedonism, derived from the dominant, Western, individualist-oriented tradition. Life satisfaction, the most commonly-used outcome variable in the well-being literature, is often related to pleasure-seeking. The pursuit of a meaningful life, on the other hand, is a more collective endeavour. There could be diversity in ideas about happiness both between and within countries.

A more holistic definition of happiness should include spirituality in addition to pleasure and meaning, although this overlaps with a search for meaning. Indeed, the collective dimension of eudaimonia may offer a better understanding of cultural variations, particularly between individualist and collectivist countries. Previous empirical studies have demonstrated that personal achievement and pleasure lead to greater happiness for North Americans. In contrast, social harmony and a feeling of interdependence with others contribute more to happiness in East Asia.

The challenge of measuring happiness across continents and cultures

To investigate how hedonic and eudaimonic dimensions of happiness varied across cultures, we worked with a panel provider to question 2,615 people from 12 countries about their life satisfaction, asking them to rate several items related to pleasure, meaning and spirituality. We chose countries that both offered cultural diversity (individualist and collectivist contexts) and represented under-studied countries.

Even if the weight of each dimension varies from country to country, this is only relative. Overall, people from all countries are equally oriented towards pleasure, meaning and spirituality in their desire for life satisfaction. This robust cross-cultural study shows that meaning is a stronger predictor of life satisfaction than pleasure for all studied countries.

Meaningful routes to wellbeing for managers

Do these findings suggest that a global culture with converging (if not homogenized) values is emerging? The idea has been around since the 2000s when the world wide web was growing rapidly.

Our results, which relied on an internet survey, may reflect patterns specific to an Internet-connected population. More generally, however, the findings are valuable for managers wishing to design smarter corporate incentives to promote staff well-being. They could benefit from widening their focus on pleasure-based benefits such as financial rewards, to include giving employees a sense of meaning, by volunteering their time, for example. Food for thought!

Jane Thompson, CWC

Rev Dr Jenny Gage RIP

It is with great sadness that we learn that Rev Dr Jenny Gage, a former trustee of CWC, has died. CWC trustees would like to send their deep condolences to Jenny’s family.

By coincidence, I have a personal connection in that Jenny and I attended the same Baptist Church in Great Missenden, Bucks some 40 plus years ago, where the minister, Rev John Rackley, introduced me to the then “Worker Priest” movement.

Jenny, who has been serving as self-supporting Minister for Social Justice at Ely Cathedral, had a long career in teaching and was called to self-supporting ministry in her mid-50s in Ely Diocese in parallel to her work in education. Needing to make sense of being a priest while still working in a secular capacity she embarked on a professional doctorate at Anglia Ruskin University and later wrote  “Priests in Secular Work: Participating in the “MIssio Dei”, published by Sacristy Press.

Jenny became a trustee of CWC because of her keen interest in the role of ministry in the secular workplace, being parallel to, but different from, chaplaincy in the workplace, and we greatly valued her input.

In her book she argued that in the twenty-first century, priests in secular work (PSW) are not a new phenomenon, and they have a specific vocation, not to be subsumed under any church-based model of ordained ministry. She made the case for understanding priestly ministry in secular work as a distinct vocation, which is necessary to the life of the institutional Church at a time when secular society is rapidly changing.

Both the sacramental nature of this vocation and the work that PSW ministers do are key, she argued, to the vocational identity of priests in secular work. Beginning with her experience of reflecting on her vocation as a maths educator and as a priest, Jenny explored priestly ministry in secular work through a number of theological lenses including the narrative formation of identity, theology of work and theology of place.

Those of us supporting chaplaincy in the workplace valued her input and whilst recognising the distinction between the role of a PSW and a workplace chaplain, we saw the parallels of experience particularly concerning the chaplain in relation to church structures in terms of recognition, support and integration.

Jenny challenged our thinking and has, we want to honour, advanced the understanding within the church and secular workplaces of the productive and vocational role of priests in secular work.

We would welcome views of chaplains on the vital issues that Jenny explored.

The funeral of Rev Dr Jenny Gage will be held in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral
at 2pm on 7th October 2022.

Clive Morton, Vice Chair, CWC

What is it all about?

CPD, CMD, APSE, PS……what is it all about?

What are all these letters about?  A weird start to a pub quiz, maybe, or just some random doodling?  You will probably recognise at least one or two of them.
Continuing Professional Development. Continuing Ministerial Development.  Association for Pastoral Supervision and Education.  Peer Supervision.

Anyone at all associated with most professions and certainly ministry will know about the encouragement to keep learning and, perhaps not so often, the need for practical support in reflection on work, which is what supervision is all about.  In more recent years we have become more aware that, with all the complexity of life, it is essential to have space to reflect on our practice of our chosen profession.  This is not supervision as a means of checking on an employee doing the job properly, but rather is “a relationship between two or more disciples who  meet to consider the ministry of one or more of them in an intentional and disciplined way” (Leach and Paterson “Pastoral Supervision – SCM – 2010 – p,1)

Workplace chaplaincy can be a bit of a lonely place, especially away from the statutory forms of it in health, prisons, police etc..  It can easily become an isolated place too when there is nowhere to take concerns or find some sort of accountability.  What do we do about the puzzling reaction to our enquiry about someone’s health?  Or, possibly more especially, what do we do about our own unexpected reaction of sorrow or anger to a particular pastoral situation? 

A relationship of pastoral supervision aims to provide somewhere to process such things in a safe, supportive but rigorous way.  It’s worth asking “Do I have somewhere to go for such help?”  Even if our ministry is very “level” and seems to be moving along in a positive way, pastoral supervision can still be a valuable way of simply keeping an eye on how we do things and how we are.

CWC recognises the value of supervision and is wondering how much of a need there is for it in the world of workplace chaplaincy.  Areas such as spiritual accompaniment/direction recognise the need for at least peer supervision in its ministry.  Perhaps something like that would work in workplace ministry?

We would value hearing your experience of supervision and your thoughts on the need for it.  Certainly APSE is one source for it where ministry is quite full rather than occasional (www.pastoralsupervision.org.uk).  But, perhaps, a peer supervision approach might suit the party-time nature of some workplace chaplaincy.  Do let us know if this is something you would like to explore.  It could make a huge and helpful difference to the practice of your calling.

Paul Hills, Vice Chair, CWC

The Chaplain as an Active Listener

I work as a chaplain in an NHS acute care setting.  Recently a colleague from another profession complimented us as a chaplaincy group by saying: ‘You always know what to say to people and what to tell them’.  Although grateful for the positive feedback we all responded in unison; ‘No. Our job is not to tell people what to do but to listen to them’.

As chaplains we probably take our role as listeners for granted.  After all it is central to what all people centred professionals do? Yet arguably, in chaplaincy, active listening is the most important skill we possess and the greatest gift we can offer to those we encounter in our role.  We are not counsellors or therapists (although many of us may have those qualifications) but we are, our should be, skilled in active listening.

‘Active listening is a communication skill that involves hearing, evaluating and responding to what is heard’. (Hargie et al. 1994)

When we listen, we are not passive, we are entering into the mindset and heart set of someone else. We are hearing a range of emotions from grief or sadness to anger and frustration.  We are meeting people in the place where they find themselves. We are acknowledging their emotions and accepting their stories. We are letting them know that they are understood.  Sometimes our active listening can lead to visible growth and discernment in the other person but just as often the benefits are not discernible, but what matters is that we have been fully present for the other person.  Growth, if at all will happen in their time and not in ours.  

‘People start to heal the moment they feel heard’ (Cheryl Richardson Sanvello)
We know from our own experience that when we are listened to our wellbeing is enhanced, we feel empowered and believe that we have choices.  This is borne out by a recent piece of research carried out by the University of Leeds on the importance of listening in NHS hospitals which showed that current care models do not allow enough time or recognition for listening encounters with patients. The outcome of research showed that; ‘The transformational power attributed to listening encounters was unanimous within all participants and groups’ (Active Listening by Hospital Chaplaincy Volunteers. A Manzano. 2015) The benefits of active listening can of course be applied to all chaplaincy setting and chaplaincy encounters.  

As religious chaplains, there is a distinctive dimension to our listening role.
‘For when two or three come together in my name, there am I with them’ (Matthew 18:20) Regardless of whether we are in a religious encounter in our chaplaincy role, we are conduits for God’s presence. This is what roots us as chaplains.  It is also what sustains us and reminds us that we too need to listen for the ‘still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:12) it is very important that we are aware of our reactions to what we hear in our chaplaincy encounters, that we are supported through colleagues and supervision and our spiritual lives. In order to be able to hear others we too need to be heard.

Mary Hanna. Chaplain in Acute NHS Care and CWC Trustee.

A Time for Everything

It’s not often that passages of the Bible make it into songs that hit the heights of the pop music charts. Many might think of Psalm 137, which was given a reggae beat and became a hit for Boney M as the song ‘By the rivers of Babylon’. But an arguably better known passage became a No 1 for American group The Byrds. Set to a tune written by the folk singer Pete Seeger, the lyrics are taken almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes chap 3, verses 1-8. The song, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, has been recorded by many others, including Judy Collins, Nina Simone, Mary Hopkin, Dolly Parton, Chris De Burgh, The Seekers and Emmylou Harris to name a few.

The words will be familiar, I am sure, but let me remind you of them.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

New International Version.

I have been thinking about these words over the past few days, after receiving an unexpected message.

The story starts some years ago, when I was working as a prison chaplain. I had to go and tell one of our residents, let me call her Joan, that her son had been killed in a car crash. Giving someone that kind of news is never easy but that occasion was particularly hard. Joan literally crumpled in front of me and wailed with pain. I spent an hour or two with her but eventually she had to return to her cell and stay there, locked up, alone in her agony.

Over the following days I would go back to see if I could offer some support but usually all she wanted was that someone would sit with her while she sobbed. In due course, arrangements were made for the son’s funeral and I helped her apply for permission to attend. It was a three hour journey each way and she was only allowed to be present for the actual service, with no real opportunity to speak to any family members. It seems very hard, but those are prison regulations.

Weeks went by, and then turned into months. And eventually Joan started to talk to me. And the thing that she wanted to know was ‘Why’? Why had her son died? Why then, just when they had started to rebuild their relationship? Why, when he was on the cusp of making his own way in the world?

When I first met Joan she would not describe herself as having any kind of faith. In fact, I don’t think she had ever really given any thought as to what God might be like. But as we talked over those months and then years, she began to ask me why I did the job I did, when it meant having to do such awful things as give people like her bad news. She started probing me about what my Christian faith meant to me, and whether it had helped me through any bad patches in my own life. I was able to share some of my life experiences with her and, whilst I had not had any tragedies on a scale comparable to hers, she could see that my life – like most of us – had not been plain sailing.

In time, Joan began to ask about the nature of prayer. started to read the Bible, began to attend a small fellowship group.  She started to talk in ways that suggested she no longer felt alone. Joan was serving a long sentence and as I moved towards retirement she wanted to know who would be around for her to talk to as, having been the chaplain who had broken the news to her, she didn’t feel anybody else would understand her situation. I encouraged her to talk to other chaplains but also said that, if she wanted to, she could write to me and I might even be able to visit her.

The pandemic lockdown came along, so visits were impossible, but we exchanged occasional letters. Then Joan was transferred to another prison, which basically meant that visits were ruled out, but we continued to exchange letters. A few weeks ago she wrote to me and, among other things, said “I believe that talking to God is getting me through the tough time I am going through, and I know that he is keeping my son safe. One day I will join him (not yet though, in the future).” In my reply I encouraged her to keep on talking!

Then came the unexpected message. Joan had died. I wrote to her mum expressing my sadness. Within days I had texts from Joan’s brother and sister and her daughter. Then phone calls. “Why, Michael? Why has she died just as she was beginning to plan for her release? Why did it have to end like this?” And then: “Would you do a reading and speak and pray as her body is laid to rest next to that of her son?”

At the beginning of Ecclesiastes (chap 1:2) the Teacher writes “Utterly meaningless, everything is meaningless.” The word comes from the Hebrew for smoke or fog. In other words, it’s not that life has no reason but rather that it’s sometimes difficult to see clearly why something is happening just now. But there is a time for everything. And so I will read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and pray with certainty that Joan’s hope of being reunited with her son will be fulfilled.

Chaplaincy cannot be a neatly defined activity starting at nine and ending at five. The work has to be about those among whom we minister. But, to my mind, walking alongside others as they go through the ups and downs of life, sharing with them, helping them see through a fog more clearly, is a privilege of the highest order. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.

By Revd. Michael Page, CWC Trustee

For all without exception

By Jane Thompson, CWC

I’ve recently been at a couple of events with CWC that I think shows the huge breadth that supporting others at work covers. Supporting someone at work can cover so many areas and often practical ‘training’ spring to mind instantly. But if we said ‘Supporting someone in life’ the enormity (and power) of this statement is clear.

Workplace Chaplains have to keep an open mind and a commitment to embrace all types of people, beliefs, conversations and challenges. I recently read a description of ‘For all without exception’ when reading an article about different types of chaplaincy and I really like this phrase.

The title of the article I read really caught my attention because if we called Workplace Chaplains ‘Emergency Services for the Soul’ it would explain how crucial the role can be sometimes.

Of course, many Workplace Chaplains would say this is too strong a description and it does of course depend on the industry, but how do we know the impact of our listening ear, or our support? We often don’t know how our words or actions can guide or heal, and it is something to remember for all of us (chaplains and non-chaplains!)

However, in this article I read about a ‘non-religious pastoral carer’ and the person in question (appointed by Humanists UK who were looking for people to provide support to people from a non-religious perspective) described chaplaincy as ‘in the moment’ and I summarise this sentiment below:

It’s not counselling – I don’t grapple with people’s pasts
It’s not coaching – I’m not focusing on the future all the time
My role is about the present: walking alongside someone, briefly, and helping them stay upright and balanced.

Are you helping others to stay upright and balanced? Are you walking alongside them?

Read more here