What is chaplaincy?
Chaplains are people appointed by the Church to work in all kinds of places outside the normal life of the congregation. There are chaplains in hospitals, workplaces, prisons, the armed forces, shopping centres, rural areas, colleges, universities and schools to name but a few. In all these places chaplains try to show God's love through offering care and support, and by representing Christian values and beliefs. Chaplains share the great privilege of discovering what God is doing out there - beyond the Church. In our diverse society, chaplaincy has to show the greatest sensitivity and respect. Christian chaplains often work in ecumenical teams or alongside colleagues from other faiths.
...an ancient tradition.
St Martin of Tours ( 316-397ad) was a Roman Army officer who encountered a destitute man near the gates of Amiens and cut his army cloak (capella) in half and became known as the firstcapellainor chaplain. After ordination, he was commissioned to work away from the main church building in places where people were in special need. Buildings created for this special work were known as chapels!
So from the beginning chaplains have had a particular pastoral and practical care for people in critical need.
They work where people are not waiting for others to come to them and they are ready to make themselves vulnerable having only half a cloak left. Martin incidentally, began his ministry as a lay person.
...part of the ministry of Jesus.
The Gospels have only a few references to Jesus being in the Temple and one of him in a synagogue at Nazareth. Apart from these, the ministry of Jesus is conducted largely outside the confines of the gathered community of faith. This is a context that chaplains recognise as they follow their call to discipleship, living out the gospel in word and deed, making real the ministry of Jesus in our time and place.
...in the tradition of John Wesley.
Our origins and self-understanding as a Church are essentially missional. Chaplains (amongst others) essentially have a 'sent' status - conferred by the Church - representative of the Church and the whole Christian cause. Chaplains may have a prophetic role to speak a word of caution and to encourage reform - creating the kingdom of God
...living and working in a plural world.
Most chaplains now work in a multi-faith environment. This is not an option, it is a necessity and it can also be a blessing.
Most chaplaincy also engages with people who do not know the Christian story or have any structured spiritual understanding. They might be very cautious of using religious thought-forms or language. So chaplains need a special facility for such engagement.
All of this says that chaplaincy is a way for us to involve ourselves in a mission within secular institutions and to the whole of society and this is a huge opportunity.
Chaplaincy is also a slightly hidden ministry. Most people are amazed to find out that there are over 700 chaplains in the Methodist Church. The following areas of chaplaincy have been traditionally recognised, or have recently emerged, within Methodism.
- Armed Forces
- Further Education
- Higher Education
- Rural and Agricultural
- Emergency Services
- Town Centre
- Elderly Care
- Young People
- Temporary (Festivals, Conferences, etc)
There are networks and coordinators to support each of these areas, with The Methodist Chaplaincy Forum providing coordination and an opportunity to exchange ideas and information.
Recent developments include a casino chaplaincy, an extensive volunteer team in Bradford Magistrates Court and a new focus on Chaplaincy in Methodist day schools
Specialist officers are available through the DMLN, nationally and in regional teams, to help churches and circuits to develop their own expressions of chaplaincy ministry as part of their mission strategy.