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Community Chaplains

community chaplain

At our Circuit Service on 5th February we celebrated the work of our Chaplains. Libby, our Lead Community Chaplain, reflected on what Chaplaincy means in practice, so we share that reflection.

Chaplains in the Methodist Church focus their ministry around 5 Ps: Prayerfulness, Practical works, Pastoral care, Prophetic voice and Presence. What do these mean? Some are obvious, others less so. Some are easier, others harder. Some are part and parcel of our work and ministry, others require a bit more thought and effort.

Prayerfulness is having an attitude of prayer and attentiveness to the leading of the Holy Spirit in all we say and do. It's going into all the places and spaces we visit as chaplains, aware that we're going in with God, in God's strength and being God's eyes and ears. It's being ready to pray with people when they ask for it, but not when they're not at that point. It's praying about all the stories and situations we hear and see, knowing that God can, and does, answer prayer. It's bringing it to our meetings together to pray for too.

Practical works is doing whatever's helpful and that we're able to do. It's helping to organise lifts from the care homes to local churches, making sure that people can get to lunch, connecting people, hearing stories, and a myriad of other things that comes to many of us naturally. A lot of chaplaincy is about being present with people, drinking tea and bringing peace to a situation, but a lot of it is about our natural tendency to get stuck in and involved, helping out where we can, sometimes without even knowing that's what we're doing.

Pastoral care is about kindness, hospitality, generosity of spirit, care and love. As chaplains, we embody the prayer of St Francis of Assissi who prayed, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy." It's about coming into a situation, spotting anyone who's in particular need of a bit more TLC at a particular time, about sitting with them, hearing their stories, seeing where they're at, and offering an encouragement to keep going. It often involves having tea with people and getting to know people as friends and companions on life's journey.

Prophetic voice sounds a bit more grand than it really is. It's all about offering truth in love. It's challenging people's preconceptions about themselves when they're negative and going through a difficult time. It's speaking into situations that need more hope, more peace, more of God's love. It's being a voice for the voiceless. It's about sharing people's struggles and challenges with those who are in a position to make a difference. It's being a voice of love to those in authority. It's asking questions that need to be asked, but doing so in a loving, inoffensive way, and often in a way that comes across as being the idea of the people we're speaking to.

Presence, our 5th P, is just that. It's about being visibly present in a place. It's wearing our chaplaincy uniforms, accompanied by our canine chaplains, in a public space. It's about showing up when people expect us, and sometimes when they don't. It's about being approachable in person, on the phone or in writing. It's the regular journeying alongside people, and not just when something special is going on. It's about sharing our stories and the stories of those we care for in an anonymous way. It's the occasional interviews on BBC Oxford and in our churches' newsletters, it's having a social media presence and keeping the circuit website up to date. It's being ready to share stories from our ministry with friends and supporters, but doing so anonymously to protect the identity of the people we pastor. It's being the face of the church to people who may never go into a church building. It's being Jesus' hands, feet, eyes and heart to people who may never know that they've walked with Jesus.

Chaplaincy: a ministry or 5 Ps – prayerfulness, practical works, pastoral care, prophetic voice and presence. Things that we all do on a daily basis, and which we keep coming back to in our day-to-day ministry as chaplains. Our guideposts and principles. Some are obvious, others less so. Some are easier, others harder. Some are part and parcel of our work and ministry, others require a bit more thought and effort. I wonder which of these resonate with you at this time?

Libby Hawkness-Smith

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