“Mostly, people are looking for someone to listen to them. Someone willing to grant them time, to listen to their dramas and difficulties” writes Pope Francis in “The Name of God is Mercy”. He has captured one of the key features of chaplaincy ministry (though this was not, I suspect, his intention). And, later in the book, we read that, “…to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God's mercy … it is necessary to go out: to go out from the churches, and the parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope.”
Chaplains go out and are present in many areas of society. In hospitals, prisons and the armed forces, they draw alongside people facing particular pressures. Workplaces have their own pressures and chaplaincy offers the opportunity both to support at times of need and to build relationships over prolonged periods, demonstrating the reality and importance of faith.
At a time when the church generally is losing its influence, and no longer has a privileged position in society, going out is vital. Availability and a readiness to listen means that we can engage with people, with their life experiences and with their spirituality, however it may be expressed. We discover faith that needs to be encouraged, and may result in a deepening encounter with God’s love and mercy.
Chaplaincy, as a faith-based response to a rapidly changing world, is a growing and creative dimension of the church’s life, but one that is not always recognized as such. This may be because it seldom fits into the agendas which guide the life of the church as an institution. The issues which surface in chaplaincy are rarely those discussed in the forums of the church, and its results cannot easily be measured in ways which are appropriate in a local church. As such, chaplaincy offers a strength and poses a challenge to the church. Our understanding of the mission, ministry, priority and purposes of the church may need to be rethought and developed.
Chaplaincy is a ministry for both lay and ordained people, one in which people can contribute their gifts and experience. BCUIM is seeking to increase its number of volunteers and the places which they visit. Nationally a growing number of people are involved in chaplaincy, giving the church an extensive reach into many areas of society. It should no longer be thought of as marginal to the life of the church. A rapidly changing world calls for a shift of thinking which would see chaplaincy as a vital part of the church’s mission and ministry, with appropriate resources devoted to it. The opportunities are there and the possibilities as we “go out from the churches… go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope” are enormous.
This piece appears in our 2015-16 Annual Report and is based on themes in Victoria Slater’s book “Chaplaincy Ministry and the Mission of the Church”