Thought for the Week (10/05/2012)
Being on the Edge and Being a Bridge
Chaplaincy as a part of the Church's mission and ministry is growing. This is true in many sectors, not just through industrial mission visiting people in their places of work, but in hospital chaplaincy with many volunteer chaplains as well as in prisons where many people help at Sunday chapel services and in many other ways.
It is the number of volunteers that is growing - in most areas of chaplaincy the number of paid staff, like other parts of the Church's ministry, is decreasing. The number of volunteers is an opportunity for many more people to be involved but is also a challenge to maintain continuity and depth of involvement because most volunteers can give less time than paid staff. Those of us who are still paid to be chaplains find our role changing so that as well as keeping a hands-on involvement in some chaplaincy, we support, supervise, mentor and encourage as well as being on the look-out for new volunteers and new opportunites for chaplaincy to be offered.
In my role as Mission Development Offficer I now do these things both in encouraging people visiting workplaces for Faith at Work in Worcestershire (BCUIM also have volunteer chaplains in Dudley) and also in agriculture for the Chaplaincy for Agriculture and Rural Life. It goes without saying that if you would like to be a volunteer I'd be delighted to hear from you! All those I know who are volunteer chaplains find it very rewarding and interesting and feel they are serving God in what they are doing, which they feel is an extension of their church membership.
Clearly, chaplaincy in whatever role is about visiting people and holding conversations - and generally about listening more than speaking, about being concerned for the person you are with. But I'd like to offer a couple of ideas offered by two speakers at two different conferences about chaplaincy that I have recently attended - and I think they apply to many types of chaplaincy, not just the ones I'm involved with.
The first idea is that chaplains are a bridge - a bridge between the world and the church and the other way round. For a bridge to work it needs to be firmly anchored at both ends, so a chaplain needs to be firmly part of the church to know the faith they are grounded in, but also very much part of the world so they can speak the language and be understood and also see where God is at work.
The second idea is that of liminality, which is about being on the edge (and I suppose, linking these two ideas, a bridge is on the edge of each shore). Those of us who have been chaplains are well used to being on the edge of the church. We are also on someone else's territory so they set the ground-rules - they say what the conversation will be about, you don't go with some packaged idea to offer. The chaplain is on the edge of the ‘world' in the encounter too. But that very edginess, as well as sometimes being uncomfortable, means the chaplain has something to bring to each side of the encounter that challenges and can change. And if that change is of Christ then it may be about the transformation that is so much of what the Gospel (good news) is about in this Easter and soon to be Ascension and Pentecost season.
Mission Development Officer - Economy