Chaplaincy: is it relevant to fresh expressions? (Andrea Campanale)

Andrea Campanale asks what the relevancy of chaplaincy is to fresh expressions.

Think-tank Theos, and The Cardiff Centre for Chaplaincy Studies, recently launched a report entitled A Very Modern Ministry: Chaplaincy in the UK. In the introduction, author Ben Ryan outlines the apparent contradiction the research explores,

The fascination of chaplaincy is that it seems to be thriving in the paradoxical situation of being a faith and belief phenomenon which is growing in a public square which often seems increasingly secular.

I have developed an interest in this area of ministry as a result of working with the chaplain at the YMCA in south west London, and Kingston University's faith advisor. I have been constantly challenged and inspired by the opportunity afforded them to help people find hope and meaning for the day-to-day struggles of life, outside the bounds of organised religion.

I am a CMS Lay Pioneer and these opportunities to listen, and find creative ways to bless others, has led me to set up a Town Centre Chaplaincy Service in Kingston-upon-Thames as part of my missional activity. I have done this with the Local Ecumenical Partnership and I see it as a means by which one of the members of the fresh expression I've created has the opportunity to follow her vocation. It is by doing mission, and reflecting on our practice together in community, that discipleship happens for us.

However, to what extent is chaplaincy mission? The report clearly picks up on the tensions around the concern not to be seen as 'proselytising'. It would be seen as a 'no-go area' in sectors such as healthcare and education but it's a different story in sports' and town centre chaplaincies where the report identifies a greater openness in talking about evangelism. One sports chaplain quoted the Sports Chaplaincy UK maxim that they should be 'pastorally proactive and spiritually reactive'. The report concluded that very few chaplains identified conversion as a particular hope.

At most, the intention seemed, on the whole, to be to encourage and deepen faith of any description.

So what is the relevance of chaplaincy for other fresh expressions? At the YMCA, chaplaincy has led to the creation of a fresh expression called The Well. This is specifically for those who either live there or access its services and who want to explore Christianity but don't feel comfortable in going to conventional church. This would seem to support the report's assertion that chaplaincy is,

…a ministry that goes to where people actually are, rather than waiting for them to come to religion.

I was also struck by the role of chaplain as being a bridge between the institution they work for and the faith community they represent. They experience changes in culture at the sharp end so are more likely to be able to find new, fresh and relevant ways to engage people with faith. However, this leads to them being almost a 'prophetic' figure who can end up feeling isolated and unsupported in both the contexts they negotiate. But if the Church were to listen and learn from the experience of chaplains, they might better address the concerns of ordinary people – and create fresh expressions where those people can find hope and relationship as they grapple with questions of eternal significance.

Andrea Campanale is a lay pioneer and mission partner with CMS and recently completed their Foundation Degree in pioneer mission leadership. She has been engaged in mission to spiritual seekers for 10 years and runs a fresh expression called Sacred Space, Kingston.

Please note that comments and views may not represent those of Fresh Expressions.