The call to be guests

10 March 2021

Chaplaincy is a ‘portable ministry’ of transformation. Stan Brown explains why.

Most of us are familiar with chaplains in large institutions – hospitals, prisons, the armed forces, universities, schools and industry. The trouble is, this makes us think of chaplaincy as a role – a particular office held by highly trained people.

The new wave of chaplaincy featured in this issue takes us out into all kinds of communities, public spaces, town centres, places of leisure and places of work.

It reaches distinctive groups of people each with their own culture and concerns.

Chaplaincy remains strong in our institutions but more and more it is about networks, groups, communities and spaces. This is chaplaincy as a portable way of doing things, a method for being there and bearing witness beyond the visible boundaries of the Church. Above all this, chaplaincy is something you can do – many chaplains are volunteers.

Two years ago, researchers from Bristol University took a close look at some of the new volunteer based chaplaincy teams the Methodist Church is developing. They concluded that these chaplaincies bring about three transformations:

  • changes in the host community which receives the chaplaincy
  • growth in the discipleship of the volunteer chaplains
  • change in the missional culture of the local churches which commissioned the chaplains

This is a form of practical discipleship that can bring change for you, your community and your church.

Chaplaincy works by inviting us to step outside the Church to become guests in a space controlled by someone else. Chaplains need permission to enter – we have to negotiate access for chaplaincy to take place. In the Gospels we read of Jesus depending on the hospitality of others.

He deliberately made himself vulnerable as our guest and had no place to call his own.

Yet so much of our thinking about mission is focused on the Church as host and house – inviting people in to come and join us. Our complex society is at one and the same time secular and multi-faith, yet shaped and influenced by Christianity.

In this fluid space Christians find themselves as a minority and the church is no longer the centre of the community. We need to learn the grace of being guests – chaplaincy has much to teach us about that.

Stan Brown

This article originally appeared in the connexion magazine, issue 2.