The growth of chaplaincy

06 December 2022

Gary Hopkins, Ministry Development Officer for chaplaincy

The demand for chaplaincy is growing. You might find that hard to believe in the current context, but more and more organisations are seeing the value of chaplaincy. In some senses, it’s not surprising: those of us who find ourselves with ministries outside the ‘walls’ of church buildings are noticing an increase in interest about life, spirituality, meaning and faith. There are some interesting things of God going on in so many places. The Methodist Recorder have recognised this and so I’m thankful that they’ve offered me a regular space to share what’s going on in the world of chaplaincy.

Only last week I had a conversation with Nigel from the Saltley Trust in the West Midlands about twenty further education colleges who for the first time want chaplaincy teams to support the wellbeing of their students. Nigel has also been invited to another region in the country to discuss a similar project with a significant amount of money being offered to fund it.

The Church of England has recognised this growing interest and is being increasingly strategic in how it coordinates work across different dioceses. Furthermore, through the Methodist Chaplaincy Forum, we are intentionally connecting the work of many organisations so that we may work together in supporting the development of chaplaincy. At the last meeting of the forum, we made the decision to offer chaplaincy jobs and opportunities through the vacancies page hosted by the Free Churches Group, helping people explore vocational opportunities much more easily.

The Free Churches Group are also offering a webinar later in the year called ‘A little bit of chaplaincy on the side’, recognising that for many offering some form of chaplaincy as part of another role in ministry has often been life-enriching and brought deeper fulfilment.

I still hold firm to the belief that chaplaincy is a gift as part of the ministry of the whole people of God. It is through the hard work, dedication and service of so many chaplains that organisations have recognised its power in supporting individuals and communities. Chaplains, through a strong belief in prevenient grace and Wesley’s theology that everyone is a child of God, connect with people where they are and respond with the love of God. Much of it small and unnoticed. Mustard seed anyone?

Just after the summer holidays I spoke to Melvina, a community pioneer chaplain working in a new housing estate. She spoke of her commitment to presence in the community. Melvina and her team regularly set up some play equipment on the field throughout the summer and invited families to come and play. This sense of building community is key to God’s work, but she also spoke of the number of times she found herself talking about faith because people wanted to talk about it.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to Kerry, an MHA chaplain, where she shared a story of people spontaneously breaking out into hymns as they were able to gather again after the pandemic. She spoke of how sometimes God turns up and you have to go with it without all the usual planning of a church service.

Jack, a prison chaplain, celebrated the baptism of several prisoners recently whose lives have been noticeably transformed by the love of God. I continue to be astounded by the stories from prisons where God meets people. Wesley was definitely onto something in his commitment to visiting prisoners.

Last month, I heard the heart-breaking story from a hospital chaplain who had supported parents through the process of being told that the death of their child was at the negligence of the hospital. Chaplains find themselves in both the joys of life, but also the most tragic of circumstances where all they can do is rely on the grace of God to offer love and support to others.

Much of this work goes unnoticed. It’s hard to connect the ministry of chaplains to the life of gathered church. We haven’t got that right. We haven’t found effective ways to connect chaplains into the life of gathered church so that they can share the incredible stories or developed helpful models of how churches can better support the ministry of chaplains in their contexts.

Moreover, we haven’t discovered intentional ways of how churches can learn from the experience of chaplains, who regularly meet people where they are. Chaplains are often transformed by their experiences as they encounter God through the people they meet, which often gives them deeper insights into other’s realities of daily life.

Yet, despite our human inadequacies in being church and getting it right, God is at work in so many ministries, including chaplaincy. Chaplains don’t often do big projects, but they do sow many seeds. This brings me back to the mustard seed: tiny, nearly unnoticeable, yet when planted it brings incredible growth.

I am privileged to hear so many stories of mustard seeds and in them I recognise the incredible potential for growth. Then, I begin to imagine all those mustard seeds being sown by hundreds of chaplains every day. All those great small things through chaplaincy in the world each and every day: as a chaplain takes time to listen; supports someone in their actions against injustice; offers prayer; makes a cup of tea; affirms someone’s worth; smiles. The list is endless.

We’re celebrating chaplaincy with the President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference on Tuesday 8th November at 7.30pm – 8.30pm online, where we’ll be affirming the great small things that chaplains do, recognising that this is the work of the reign of God. Everyone is welcome to the celebration. If you’re not able to be with us, then you’re invited to use the included prayer in your own devotions – we’ll be using this prayer at the event.

One final thing, if you’re interested in knowing more about chaplaincy, checkout the chaplaincy section of the Methodist website, which links to lots of places where you can discover all the great work that goes on. And don’t forget, if you know a chaplain, or know of one, why not ask them about their ministry and discover some of the things that God is up to in the world.

Originally written for the Methodist Recorder, 4th November 2022.