Chaplains …. Just like Jesus did
“Chaplaincy is one of the most fantastic things I have ever done”. This was one of the opening remarks of Nigel Hemmings, the pastor of the Vineyard Church in Winchester when he shared his thoughts with a gathering of Chaplains in Winchester recently.
Nigel wants the Church to be enmeshed in the local community, and to such an extent that, “if you took us out, everybody would notice”. Nor does Nigel want to be comfortable. He spends most of his life in a Church Office, so doing Chaplaincy is a way of getting out there amongst the people and out of the “comfort” of that Church Office. And it’s “just as Jesus did”, so it is the opportunity to garner some authenticity as well.
Nigel encouraged us by asserting that everyone needs a chaplain – everyone needs to know that they are loved by God. But this also carried the caveat that people are more likely to respond to someone who listens, rather than someone who will preach. And that, of course, is one of the basic premises of chaplaincy.
But what is the purpose of a chaplain? It is mostly about pastoral support. It includes contributing to the creating of community. It can also include mediation and calming. Conversations will not always get anywhere, but Nigel did reveal that he finds himself in tears sometimes at the things that some people will share, and this comment gave rise to some knowing nods from other people present. Chaplains are changing the picture around religious engagement, and this will lead on occasion to comments like “I felt far better after you came around last time”.
We touched on the things that make a chaplain effective. These will include religious appeal, personal appeal, trust and neutrality, distinctiveness. We are all different, but the personal relationship will be important. Nigel asserted that Chaplains are more like Jesus than VIcars are – a statement which might initially sound surprising, but it must be obvious that they reflect more the life and work of Jesus, who would not be in a Church building on the edge of town (which would reflect Nigel’s normal place), but would be in the streets among the ordinary people.
Nigel quoted Mark – chapter 12 About the First Commandment: you shall love your neighbour as yourself is a powerful message about chaplaincy, about caring for people outside your immediate worshipping community, and the scribe who agrees with Jesus on this point is described as being “not far from the Kingdom of God”. We are left in no doubt as to the importance of reaching out and including everyone in the care of the Church, the Love of God.
So, being out there in the wider world. Discipleship is not something that happens in Religious buildings, and Nigel made it clear that to go out and Love people is more important than to go to Church and Worship God. We should be teaching in our Churches that everyone needs to be going out and being a chaplain in their own community.
And we heard about the difference between visions and dreams, about caring about the wider world as opposed about caring for our Church – the pastor from a church in Northern Ireland saying “we do not have a vision for our Church, we have a dream for our City”. Jeremiah (33:3) “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” – we may have the ability to envisage a better world, but this may be nothing in comparison to God’s own picture of what is possible.
To use more modern concepts, we learnt about scattered servants – we are not a bounded set. Restricted by the four walls of the Church, but a Centred Set, with Jesus at the Centre but reaching out far more widely than we might otherwise do.
To maintain this, we should be organising for less centralised Church activity and more scattered Community Activity, where we should be seen as trusted rulers, leading our communities in to life. And Nigel’s encouragement included assuring those assembled that they had the “spiritual authority” to do this. Kingship is the mediation of God’s own rule, and we should be able to be God, to be Jesus to People. We can change atmospheres, we can bring hope to people.
There was also sharing among those present. We had reports of how things are going for chaplaincies at various stages in Newbury, Poole and Dorchester, as well as from our hosts in Winchester. It was enormously clear that everyone appreciated the coming together, the encouragement of knowing other people are at it as well, and so it is likely that we will do this again.
Alongside this, IBEX also suggested the idea of developing some sort of online Chaplains’ forum, where ideas could be shared and questions asked. The idea was welcomed, and ways are being looked in to now of making this happen.
So watch this space!
Contact David Wrighton, Team Leader, E-mail: email@example.com