Being together at the Chaplaincy Forum

07 March 2023

Gary Hopkins, Ministry Development Officer for chaplaincy

The Methodist Chaplaincy Forum is a delight. We meet regularly to connect, explore and ‘notice resonance’. We are a group of people with a passion for chaplaincy: some lead organisations across Britain, some work for the Methodist Church, some represent other denominations and many are chaplains who represent different sectors and want to offer something to develop chaplaincy.

Each time we begin by sharing the exciting developments happening across different areas. It is a great place to notice what God is doing in so many different places, and helps to ensure we work together in supporting chaplaincy as a whole. It is difficult to set an agenda, because there is such variety in the make-up of the group, but this is its beauty. I see my role as chair to hold the space so we might discover what God is calling us to do: an intentional openness to what we might notice together.

At the most recent forum, we discovered how Sports Chaplaincy UK is experiencing greater demand from professional football teams. We learnt how West Midlands Churches’ Further Education Council continues to respond to the growing demand in FE for chaplains. We found out about the way places are making space for people’s spiritual support in hospitals and care homes, particularly creating environments that help people to take time out and reflect as part of their wellbeing. Anna Chaplaincy talked about their new programmes for supporting spirituality in later life and how changes in Scotland’s healthcare provision will increase demand for chaplaincy. We heard about how Church of England chaplaincy leads are connecting together to support the growing interest in chaplaincy as a vocation. Workplace Chaplaincy Mission UK spoke of its new approach to supporting chaplains through regular online meetings. One of our community chaplains in a new housing estate shared her experience of offering a walking group and advertising it as a walk to talk about

The Free Churches Group continues to provide a hub for chaplaincy work. It now hosts a vacancies page, a calendar of events and a list of training and development opportunities. This will make our work together much easier as we centralise opportunities so that people can easily explore what is available. It also provides us with ways of collaborating so that we can support the development of different sectors together.

One of the exciting developments is the introduction of a chaplaincy module to Cliff College’s Foundations for Mission and Ministry course, which will launch later this year. The course is comprised of a number of modules which are accredited at Level 4 by The University of Manchester, some of which form part of the development of Local Lay-Pastors. The great thing about the units is they can be taken standalone or as part of a pathway, which means individuals can match them to their needs and vocational calling. The chaplaincy unit will enable more people to explore and develop a good understanding of the theology and practice of chaplaincy. We are also exploring a new project in partnership with MHA and Cliff to support churches in serving people in later life – watch this space for developments in the coming months.

A number of our partners on the forum are also exploring some new publications for chaplaincy. Chaplaincy continues to develop and grow in many different ways – some of it in response to the Covid19 pandemic – and therefore we have identified the need to continue to offer theological reflection from a range of contexts and perspectives. Many chaplains also continue to do academic research and so we see this as an opportunity to share wisdom, experience and learning. There are conversations about different styles of publication, from creative illustrated graphic formats to academic pieces. It would be great to hear from anyone who has something they think worth offering through one of these publications. Please do get in touch with me.

However, chaplaincy still finds itself vulnerable in places as financial resources from churches become stretched and decisions are made about where to focus money. There is often something of a tension between what God is calling the body of Christ to be and do and how the church discerns where money should be spent. Noticing God and freeing up resources to join in with God’s mission is always a challenge to our structures.

It astonishes me what happens when people make space to connect and explore. Through good relationships, we are able to share and notice connections. I often recognise glimpses of God in this. I began this piece by using the phrase ‘notice resonance’. I see this as the idea that when people connect and explore what God is doing in different places, we are able to notice things that connect or resonate. In this resonance, seeds are sown and new growth becomes possible.

For me, it is a spiritual practice to hold a space and ‘be’ together, rather than just coming together to ‘do’. Often our doing is tied up to an already in motion idea, task, role, and we get on with it. However, there are times when we need to stand back and hold space to notice what is going on and what God might be doing and how we might join in: Missio Dei comes to mind. In our time together, when we share stories, talk about what we are excited about, what our hopes and concerns are, we sense something deeper of one another and notice God at work in each of us and discern what might be our way as disciples.

It is a privilege to work with others exploring our part in God’s mission as God’s people. The forum brings me great joy as I discover the great things going on, but I also find that our intentional time together opens up new possibilities and gives us the opportunity to notice where God is moving us. I hope and pray that we continue to ‘notice resonance’ and enable more people in their role as a chaplain.

You can find out more about the Methodist Chaplaincy Forum on The Methodist Church’s website at methodist.org.uk/chaplaincy. Gary can be contacted at hopkinsg@methodistchurch.org.uk.

Originally written for the Methodist Recorder, 3rd March 2023.