Workplace Chaplaincy – including retail and town/city centre chaplaincy.
Over 20 years ago SHIM, as IBEX was then, was approached by the group of Clergy from the City Centre in Winchester who wanted “to find ways of better relating to the City”. As it happened, they were already pretty good at it. Among other things they already had a well established Night Shelter, ran regular series of lunchtime talks called “Space in the City” and ran a Christian Counselling Service. The one obvious thing that was missing from their portfolio was Chaplaincy – Workplace Chaplaincy, a presence to take the people working in the City Centre seriously.
This is different to the institutional Chaplaincies, such as to the Armed Forces, to Universities, to Prisons or to Hospitals. In those places, Chaplaincy is much more part and parcel of the establishment. In prisons, it is a legal requirement that each establishment has a Chaplain. In those other institutions, a Chaplaincy is going to be a part of the structure of the institution. Workplace Chaplaincy has no such luxury. They have to negotiate their entry in to what otherwise is a private domain.
Modern Day Workplace Chaplaincy finds its roots largely in Sheffield. There had in earlier times been ministry to railway navvies and similar groups in Victorian Times, but the first modern day “Industrial Mission” Team was founded in 1944 in Sheffield. Bishop Leslie Hunter was concerned that the Church was losing touch with the working classes, and so he sent the Revd Ted Wickham out to work on this. This was well received by factory owners and by the workforces, leading to the setting up of Sheffield Industrial Mission.
Chaplaincy now – What it is…and what it isn’t!
Chaplaincy is not about evangelism. I can remember hearing of a Church where the message was writ large over the doors for when people left at the end of the service “You are now entering the Mission Field”. Chaplaincy is about that very Mission Field.
Another common attitude among people is that chaplaincy is “taking God out in to the World”, whereas people who have thought about it more, or who have experienced it, are far more likely to work on the basis that Chaplaincy is about “going out to find where God is already at work”. It is about being interested in what is going on in the Community for its people – in this case people at work. It is also about being very much on other people’s territory, and this as an uninvited guest, unlike with other forms of chaplaincy.
Things to Think about.
Firstly, this is not a fool proof guide to how to start a Chaplaincy. It is far more complicated than what can be written down in a few sentences. But herewith some thoughts, some things to consider.
Why do you want to do it?
Chaplaincy is not about Evangelism. We encountered someone once who said “But what am I supposed to say to people if I can’t tell them Jesus loves them?” But if you asked a shop or factory manager for permission to try and convert their workforce, his or her answer would be likely to be “Not on company time, thank you.” If the reason for doing it is that you care about the Community and what is going on for God’s people within it, people are more likely to listen.
But this is not a Machiavellian way of gaining an entry. Is it not WWJD – “What Jesus Would Do?” I remember well a former minister at my home church saying “Jesus never set out to convert anyone.” He just took people seriously, whoever they were and whatever they believed. He asked questions. He answered questions. He made people think. Most of all, he was interested!
Chaplaincy is for everyone – not just Church-going Christians, but people of other faiths, people of no faith, the nicest people, and people with a criminal record as long as your arm. Think of the People Jesus happily dealt with, and even sought out on occasion: tax collectors, Roman centurions, prostitutes. A favourite biblical story is “the Woman at the Well” – Jesus talking happily with someone whom the religion of his day would have vilified for any number of reasons – she was a Samaritan, she was at the well at midday because she had been ostracised by the other women of her village, she had been married 5 times, and now she was living with someone she was not married to.
In a meeting recently, a University Chaplain commented that on occasion young Muslims would rather talk to a Christian Chaplain than a representative of their own faith. Those young Muslims may have unfounded fears as to how they will be received by a leader from their own faith. The same may work the other way around as well – Christians or Jews choosing to go to a Muslim. But a good chaplain would not turn anyone anyway
Following on from that, a good Chaplain keeps a confidence…. Or should I just say “A chaplain keeps a confidence. If someone is incapable of doing so, they should not be doing the job. There will be times when you think something should be shared elsewhere – that it might help a difficult situation to do so. But if you think it might be useful to talk to somebody’s boss, wife or whoever to try and sort something out, you MUST seek the permission of your “client” to do so.
BUT… There are exceptions to this – serious exceptions. If you are aware that a crime is going to be committed, or if you become aware of, or have grounds to suspect, some sort of abuse going on, particularly child abuse, it would be against the law to keep it to yourself and not inform the authorities. You could end up being prosecuted.
Winning Trust - The Need for Small Talk.
You might expect that exercising a chaplaincy role is full of heavy conversations. It isn’t necessarily. You need to be able to hold “normal” conversations with people – “did you watch Strictly at the weekend?” or “I see they lost again on Saturday”. It’s about developing a relationship, winning trust. An individual would probably feel the need to think that they know you before they are going to open up about an issue or a problem in their lives.
And don’t be downhearted…. Some people would feel disappointed that they are not immediately having lots of “worthwhile conversations”, but a Chaplain is doing something useful by just “being there”, which is partly what it is about - sharing a part of people’s lives.
To aid that small talk, keep records. You may be lucky enough to have the sort of memory that can recall that conversation you had with Mary in the stockroom six months ago. But if not, don’t be afraid to start keeping records – an organised notebook or diary, or many people would use index cards. So, before you go into the Hardware shop, you can remind yourself that the last time you spoke to Mary, she was getting excited about her daughter’s upcoming wedding. There’s an obvious thing to ask about! And she would be impressed and possibly flattered that you had remembered.
If you wish to develop a relationship based on trust, you need to be there regularly, ideally at a predictable time each week or however often it is. And if you can’t be there, whether it is because of holiday or any other good reason, make sure people know.
Out of Hours contact
If they want to contact you anyway outside the normal visiting times, have you provided some sort of contact details: a dedicated mobile phone number on which a message can be left, and/or a Chaplaincy email address which would need to be regularly checked.
BUT it is unwise for people to give out their own personal phone numbers or email addresses. There have been cases where doing this has caused problems for the Chaplain. It is necessary to keep some sort of distance and keep the relationship professional…. But caring. It’s self-preservation above all else.
Non-judgemental – but empathetic
This and the next three points are closely related. But you are not there to judge! If you became known as someone who was telling people off all the time, nobody would seek you out.
But more importantly than that, just think back to “Judge not lest ye be judged!” (Matthew 7:1) or to “Let he who is without Sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7)
Listening – not Counselling.
You may well have heard the old adage about us having two ears and one mouth. That is absolutely true for an effective chaplain. The most important person in any conversation is not going to be the Chaplain.
It is also vital to remember that Chaplaincy is not Counselling. At its best it is active listening. A Chaplain is not there to give advice or to engage in the very specialist task of counselling, which has its own very specialist training. Counsellors would also need to have Professional Indemnity Insurance in place, which a Chaplain does not have.
If you do offer advice and it goes wrong, it could result in legal proceedings.
What you can do, though, once you have listened, is point people –signpost – towards other potential sources of help. Established Chaplaincies would have a list of local organisations which can help in a variety of situations – debt counselling, marriage guidance, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, benefits advice – the list is potentially endless.
If you are sending people out to be Chaplains, they will need to be trained. Otherwise they could do more harm than good… just by saying the wrong thing in the wrong place or being indiscreet and unthinking.
Some teams will formulate their own training according to their own perceptions of what is needed locally. But there is some exceptionally good material available online:
The Methodist Church has developed a course called Chaplaincy everywhere which is available as a course of six sessions on the Methodist Church website: https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-work/our-work-in-britain/chaplaincy/chaplaincy-everywhere/
There is an organisation called WCM UK which also has training material online. WCM stands for Workplace Chaplaincy Mission, and this is what used to be the IMAE – Industrial Mission Association, the original national organisation of long-standing for this area of work. Here is a link to their website: http://www.workchaplaincyuk.org.uk/
NB You do have to be a member of WCMUK in order to access the material through the Members Area. If you wish to join WCM UK, this can be done at preferential rates through IBEX. Contact us through the comments section or at
Recruitment – who will be suitable?
Firstly, this is not just a job for the Clergy – in fact far from it. There is no reason why an ordained person should not be involved in chaplaincy. Many historically have been. But it is something that Lay People are eminently capable of doing.
Remember it is not Evangelism. There is a theory that people who don’t think they would be suitable for such a role might be the best people to do it. People who are recruiting will put out a general appeal for interested parties, but at the same time will often approach the local clergy for their perceptions and recommendations. It is not about a dominating and confident presence, it is about the ability to get on with people, to empathise, to win trust, to have a good relationship with people. It is about communication, and we need to remember that communication is a two-way process.
Ecumenical…. And beyond?
As already mentioned above, Chaplaincy is there for everyone, whatever their denomination or faith, so who you are talking to should not matter. So in terms of developing a Chaplaincy from scratch:
It will probably be better and stronger if it is developed from the start on an ecumenical basis.
There have been instances where one Church has started a Chaplaincy because no one else had the time, but which has subsequently been joined by other Churches as it developed, proved to be worthwhile and people realised it is a good thing.
In some places there are multi-faith chaplaincies – the Greenwich Peninsula for example. Sometimes an organisation, if approached about chaplaincy, would express a preference for, or even insist on a multi-faith chaplaincy, particularly if the demography of the area shows this might be wise.
Most Churches or Church Groups will be well aware of the Disclosure and Barring Scheme. Most people would accept that a Chaplain needs to be checked in this way. They are, by definition, potentially dealing with vulnerable people – if someone has a problem, they are vulnerable.
One vital thing to remember is insurance – Public Liability insurance – for a Chaplain. A former local colleague used to be a Chaplain to a steelworks in Scunthorpe. If he had inadvertently done something which caused a dangerous situation and led to the steel –making process being shut down, the cost implications would have been horrendous, and he could have been sued to cover them.
People will not normally be in that sort of environment. But if a Chaplain in a shop accidentally turned off the Freezers and led to a catastrophic loss and ruination of stock…? Chaplains need to be insured, even though that insurance may never be used.
How to get insured? Membership of WCM UK automatically brings with it Public Liability Insurance for named chaplains. Many teams will organise such insurance through adding it on to the Insurance Policy of one of their local Churches. It need not be ridiculously expensive.
Don’t be impatient or disheartened if you go for ages feeling that you are not doing anything useful. Just being there is being useful. Just being friendly to people and showing that you care about them is useful. Just developing the relationship so that one day they might share a problem…. Or a joy…. With you is useful.