Ministry at the workstation
Chaplaincy is a different kind of ministry of giving and receiving. Laurence Wareing asks chaplains what makes their work so special
The first question Elaine Hutchison was asked as a chaplain in Birmingham’s Bull Ring was, ‘What does the Bible say about Ouija boards?’ The questions continued in this unexpected vein. ‘What was Noah’s wife’s name?’ – the shop assistant’s daughter had a toy Noah’s ark set and had been asking.
Elaine has been working as a chaplain to the retail sector for over 15 years. Based at The Church at Carrs Lane, she oversees an ecumenical team of eight volunteers. She has volunteered in other contexts, including as a police chaplain. At the annual Christmas market, the chaplains are integral to the support team, alongside the police and medics, and returning traders recognise Elaine when she arrives at their stalls. Some have travelled from Poland or Romania, and may feel lonely away from home – they know Elaine is someone they can talk to.
Entering other people’s spaces is essential to the work of chaplaincy. It’s often about meeting people with no experience of gathered faith, says Gary Hopkins, the Methodist Church Ministry Development Officer for chaplaincy. Chaplains minister ‘in places that aren’t owned by the Church, which shifts the power dynamic. Where churches are often in the position of being hosts, chaplains are frequently guests’, he says. He observes that, in the Gospels, ‘Jesus rarely plays host – he’s always the guest in the spaces of others.’
Gary’s observation rings true for Frin Lewis-Smith, a URC minister who is a healthcare chaplain with Salford Royal Foundation. ‘There’s something very precious about stepping into break rooms, standing at a workstation,’ she says. ‘Listening to ward staff under stress. Providing a reflection space. Taking 15 minutes to understand what really matters to them.’ With 900 patients at any one time, and 11,000 staff in the Trust, Frin’s team is ‘available to those of any faith or belief or none. We reach widely considering how few we are.’
Laurence Wareing is Content Editor for Reform
This article was published in the October 2023 edition of Reform