Multi-faith chaplaincy: virtual dream or pragmatic reality? A paper given at a chaplaincy study day, University of Derby, February 7

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Multi-faith chaplaincy: virtual dream or pragmatic reality?

A paper given at a chaplaincy study day, University of Derby, February 7th, 2013
Twenty years ago all university chaplaincy was Christian chaplaincy. Today that is being questioned. We are chaplains to multi-cultural, multi-faith institutions, with students and staff from all over the world, belonging to many different faiths and belief-systems. What does this mean for chaplains and chaplaincy?
All of us here today are chaplains to HE institutions. Increasingly, in response to both the Equalities Act of 2010, and the increasing diversity of our institutions, we are asked to be chaplains in a multi-faith context. How should we respond? Is multi-faith chaplaincy a wonderful dream? or is it being forced upon us by forces we cannot resist? Virtual dream – or pragmatic reality?
Papers and books on the subject quickly show their age. Legood (1999), in the index, does list “multi-faith issues”. The references are to the chapter on hospital chaplaincy: “…multi-faith teams… non-Christian and Christian chaplains…” (Legood 1999:76), and the chapter on school chaplaincy. Four references in a book of 170 pages. Simon Robinson, in his “Ministry among students” (2004) argues “it is not possible to have a chaplaincy in which other faiths play an inclusive or organizational role” (Robinson 2004:86). Although others were disagreeing at the time, that could not be written today. Only one year later the Church of England’s Board of Education in their report: “Aiming Higher: HE and the church’s mission” suggests that Higher Education Institutions will value chaplaincies that provide a service that is ‘explicitly for all’ (Church of England 2005:26-27), and goes on to talk of diverse faiths.
We have used the image of exile in this group: the idea that chaplains may be exiles from the church, and exiles from the institution. I am wondering what it would be like if instead we were to explore the image of Exodus. Chaplains fleeing from the oppression of the institutional church, wandering to and fro in the desert, not always quite sure where we are going, searching for virtues and habits to create; filled with hope and drawn towards God’s promise. At intervals water comes – as if from rock. And where is the promised land? Of course some say it would be easier to go back home and be told what to do, to the safety and familiarity of Christian chaplaincy; but long term, it could be exciting, the promised land with people of all faiths getting on with each other, respecting one another.
In this paper no mention is made of multi-faith spaces – because this is well covered elsewhere. I do look at:

  1. What is chaplaincy?

  2. What do chaplains do? What should they be doing in a multi-faith context?

  3. History of chaplaincy

  4. Wandering to & fro: Flash-points which need addressing:

  5. The promised land?

  1. What is chaplaincy?

How do we define chaplaincy? There are as many definitions as there are chaplains. But certain threads do go through all attempts at definition. One I warm to is that of Mark Newitt in “Being a chaplain”:

The key role of a hospital chaplain is “accompanying people through times of transition” (Threlfall-Holmes 2011:104-5). This would be recognized by many chaplains in different contexts.
At the beginning of “Being a chaplain”, Miranda Threlfall-Holmes says: “Chaplaincies are a major part of the mission and ministry of Christian churches and are increasingly being valued and entered into by members of other faiths. There remains, however, little common reflection and analysis about what chaplaincy is, what a chaplain might be expected to do and whether and why it is important…” (Threlfall-Holmes 2011:xiii). This does not define chaplaincy. She never does. The nearest she comes is right at the end of the book:
Chaplains could perhaps be described “as the ‘research and development’ department of the Church, and it is bad business to fail to invest in R & D in a recession” (Threlfall-Holmes 2011:139). She points out how the ministry is not qualitatively different from the vision of a priest in every parish. But: chaplains & chaplaincy provision should be much more closely integrated into the lives of the churches. Chaplaincy is, and should be, a normative & valuable part of the mission of the Church, as part of a mixed economy.
Simon Robinson’s book “Ministry among students” (2004) makes no attempt to define chaplaincy at all.
David Ford (2011) defines chaplaincy only in terms of function, on which more below.
The 2005 pamphlet on Chaplaincy in Further Education says this:

“1) Chaplaincy has always been ecumenical in character, now multi-faith. All chaplaincies are established as a partnership between colleges and faith communities, to meet the needs of all students of any faith, or none.

2) Usually multi-faith teams… with clear definitions of roles and responsibilities agreed by all concerned, with agreed minimum standards for office, meeting space and operational conduct.

3) Chaplaincies do not indulge in overt proselytism (ie trying to convert students from one faith to another). Chaplains are there to help students in their spiritual and moral development, to explore faith and to seek meaning and purpose in life. Where appropriate, chaplaincies can act as signposts to local faith communities.

Chaplaincies exist for the benefit of all in the college.” (LSC 2005:9)
More recently an e-mail, advertising a course designed to encourage university chaplains to publish papers, states how “Chaplaincy tends to be an oral tradition, but there are reasons for also developing more of a written tradition” (e-mail to university chaplains 20.12.2012).
A non-Christian definition of chaplaincy is difficult to find. At the Global chaplains conference 2012, Rabbi David Ellenson (born Orthodox, now Reform, Jew) spoke. His question was: How can we speak from our tradition in this world? His answer was 3-fold: 1) We must be – a spreader of Torah; John 3:16 is the equivalent for Christians. God’s gift of infinite love – we must spread it with integrity and authenticity. 2) We must be – a friend; have a genuine sense of empathy. And 3) We must be – a sage. A wise person. We must speak to their hearts. This is quite a tall order – quite a calling.
At the same conference, the Muslim speaker, Ingrid Mattson, who helped set up the chaplaincy training course at Hartford Seminary asked ”What is a chaplain?”, said how it was a key question – and proceeded not to answer it. She was, however, keen on the difference between a chaplain and an Imam. The Hartford seminary website has this:
“A chaplain is a professional who offers spiritual advice and care in a specific institutional context, such as a military unit or a college campus, hospital or prison.
“Although chaplains often provide religious services for members of their own faith communities, the main role of a chaplain is to facilitate or accommodate the religious needs of all individuals in the institution in which he or she is working. Chaplains often serve as experts on ethics to their colleagues and employers, providing insight to such diverse issues as organ transplantation, just-warfare, and public policy. Professional chaplains do not displace local religious leaders, but fill the special requirements involved in intense institutional environments. Thus, a Muslim chaplain is not necessarily an "Imam," although an Imam may work as a chaplain. There is a need for both male and female Muslim chaplains. For example, female Muslim students on college campuses or hospitalized Muslim women may feel more comfortable with a Muslim woman chaplain” ( accessed February 2013).
An article on Buddhist chaplaincy is revealing:

“Buddhist chaplaincy is in the formative stage as a modern-day discipline and profession at the intersection between Buddhism, chaplaincy and suffering… The seeds of Buddhist chaplaincy as a vocation begin with the Buddha.” (Block 2011)

In the past a chaplain was seen as a solitary figure (as were vicars). There are pictures from the 1950s show one man in a dog collar walking around and being holy. These days, as with every other field of ministry, and of life, it is a question of teamwork, and networking. The image of the solitary Father has been replaced by the Holy Spirit of networking and the teamwork of the Trinitarian God.
Parish clergy of today may be envious of chaplains: no parish share to collect, no expensive buildings to maintain. We are like the parish priests of 30-40 years ago in terms of being able to concentrate on the key tasks of pastoral care and leading worship.
John Pritchard in The life and work of a priest states that we must be priests before we do priestly things. I believe we must be chaplains before we do chaplainy things. When I arrived as chaplain to Keele University, the bishop said to me: Be a priest in that community. That is our calling.

  1. What do chaplains do?

Mark Newitt, in “Being a chaplain” lists a few excerpts from Job descriptions which are remarkably similar, for chaplains in Higher Education, in hospital, the military, and prison. These include: Pastoral &/or spiritual care; leading worship; education/training. He states a number of functions of chaplains:

Attentive listeners. But are chaplains only that? If so, employ counsellors.

Trained in pastoral theology. “Systematic theological reflection on lived experience”. In response to reducing of church congregations, perhaps that may generate a need for chaplains who “listen openly, and respond creatively, to personal spiritualities”.

Skilled in handling liturgy and liturgically based ritual. This has to be important if you see the work of a chaplain of handling change – accompanying people through times of transition.

Critical, creative and reflexive thinkers. We need to reflect on what we are doing – not just do it.

Ability to be flexible, to relate to the most senior and to the most junior staff; and to work with others of very different faith/values working. He describes one example of a Roman Catholic bishop and a pagan chaplain working together with one patient;

Other tasks may include Managing volunteers, Writing their own job description.

(Threlfall-Holmes 2011:105-112)

David Ford in his excellent paper: “Theology and chaplaincy in a multi-faith context: a manifesto” delivered at a conference in Cardiff 1-2 December 2011 says how there are three main parts to a chaplain’s job: “Chaplaincy is mainly concerned with worship (and other faith-specific practices), pastoral care, and raising questions of meaning, value and purpose within institutions” (Ford 2011:14).
Miranda talks of ‘identifying the chaplaincy role’, how difficult that is to do, how many chaplaincies within institutions simply have not done it; and how wrong that is. The institution will have a mission statement, as will most departments within it. The Prison service chaplaincy has an excellent Mission statement: “The Chaplaincy is committed to serving the needs of prisoners, staff and religious traditions by engaging all human experience… We contribute to the care of prisoners to enable them to lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release” (Threlfall-Holmes 2011:131). This last sentence deliberately echoes the Mission statement of the whole prison service. Justifying our existence is no bad thing – in small doses. But it is very hard, when we are not used to it. Perhaps we should ask in this context: what are the Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, appropriate to chaplains?
Miranda is very clear on the different stakeholders when it comes to chaplaincy, and how the expectations of each may be different: she explores how the values of the institution may be different from those of the sponsoring church, which may be different again from that of the individual chaplain (Threlfall-Holmes 2011:127-140). One of the joys of being a chaplain is the freedom we have to create our own job.

  1. History of chaplaincy:

The post-war period is the most crucial for the establishing of chaplaincy. There is a law dating from 1952 which states that prisons must have an Anglican chaplain. The need for chaplaincy is also expressed in the foundation documents of the NHS – although there is a difference there in that they do specify the need for different denominations, not just Church of England.

Originally, all universities were founded by the church, and staffed by clergy – pastoral care was therefore the responsibility of all staff. Key dates in the history of university chaplaincy are as follows:
1826 – University College London founded: This dispensed with the need for students and staff to be members of the established church – or to be religious at all. This was the first university to be built with no chapel, and appointed no chaplain.

1829 – King’s College, London founded. Anglican foundation with dean & chaplain.

1947 Anglican report said that chaplains should be appointed.

1954/5 Church Assembly (now General Synod) agreed to set aside money for appointing chaplains to universities. The diocese would appoint and pay stipends, the Chaplaincies Advisory Group would coordinate and train chaplains. In 1954 the Bishop of London said that ‘parish clergy would find it difficult to ‘get at’ the student population (quoted in Robinson 2004:217).

In 1952, outside Oxbridge there were eight university chaplains. By 1985, chaplaincies were established in every university, poly, and church college in the country.
Chaplaincy in Higher Education Institutions is often under threat – because the basis of the Church of England is the parish system. But is this an old-fashioned view? Do people still relate to the area in which they live? Soon after I arrived as chaplain at Keele University, where there is a large chapel in the centre of campus, I was asked to baptize the children of a couple who worked at the university. Keele chapel was their “Monday-Friday church” – they did not know where their “Sunday church” was.
Andrew Todd, in “Being a chaplain”, describes two inter-related developments which are key to this discussion:
1) Development of multi-faith chaplaincy is “understood as an increase in number & roles of chaplains from faiths other than Christianity”; 2) Development of chaplaincy “that reaches beyond the traditional religious roles and boundaries to those of other belief positions (such as humanism), and those whose philosophy or beliefs are derived or developed in more individual ways. Sometimes known as ‘generic’ chaplaincy, this approach is a response not only to religious diversity but also to a wider diversity of ways in which humans find meaning in and for their lives. “Spiritual” care rather than religious: this is language which appears frequently in healthcare documents (Threlfall-Holmes 2011:89).
In Higher Education, are we going down the route of 1) above? Certainly that is seen as ‘a good thing’ by most institutions. But is it the answer? At Newcastle University, in order to be appointed as chaplain, you have to state that you are there ‘for students of all faiths and none’, which implies more down the 2) route.
Pluralism is here, and here to stay. That is a given. But is chaplaincy truly pluralist? Power differentials seem to indicate otherwise. A survey of other fields of chaplaincy provides interesting comparisons:
Army chaplains offer ‘pastoral support for all who seek it, whatever their religion, beliefs or background might be’ (Royal Army Chaplains Department 2010). But the structures are still Christian. Proportionally, that is ‘correct’. But for how long? And how do you deal with it when the time comes? At the moment there are ‘world faith’ chaplains, but they are not commissioned, and have a very different job: the Anglican chaplain is there for all (see above), but the world faith chaplains are there for their own. They are not army personnel – they are civilians.
Prison is different: reflecting the different demographic (ie more Muslim prisoners). All prisoners have a right of access to religious facilities. Muslims form c 12% of prison population. The first full-time Muslim chaplain was appointed in 2003. By 2009 there were nearly 200 Muslim chaplains (c 20% of total chaplains), 38 of whom were full-time. Todd points out that while of course this is a good response to the changing demographic, it is also to combat the fear of Muslim extremism. (Threlfall-Holmes 2011:96).
Healthcare chaplains talk much of ‘generic chaplaincy’. This they define as ‘listening to, discerning and responding to the needs expressed by patients, relatives and staff’ (Threlfall-Holmes 2011:97). Patients can be referred on to another practitioner with expertise in a particular area of belief or religious practice. Thus the religions are seen as ways of expressing spirituality. This relativizes religion, reducing the privilege given to any one religion or to those who identify as religious over those who do not.
Looking at the above, healthcare chaplaincy has embraced multi-faith chaplaincy more than either military or prisons. Pluralism is normative there. Following on from Todd’s two inter-related developments above: How far will chaplaincy go in responding to the particularity of different faiths; that is, belief-specific chaplaincy? How far a greater flexibility of response to diversity ie each chaplain being prepared to work with an increasing spectrum of belief and practice? In Todd’s opinion, both will be necessary. But the balance between them? And what about the theoretical base? We need to work at this.
Most chaplaincy theology has been Christian – but that is changing. What does a Muslim theology of chaplaincy look like? Different faith-based understandings of chaplaincy need to be brought into conversation with each other.
Todd summarises his ideas as follows:

“at issue is the shared identity of chaplaincy within a multi-faith, multicultural setting. Too great an emphasis on faith-specific provision not only risks competition for scarce resources but also a lack of professional coherence; too great a weight placed on that coherence risks a loss of distinctiveness, rooted in the riches of multiple faith traditions. A balance is necessary…” (Threlfall-Holmes 2011:101)

  1. Wandering to and fro: flashpoints potential and actual

It is very difficult to get a truly multi-faith team, unless all are paid by the institution, as they are at many prisons and healthcare establishments. At Newcastle University we have a Jewish chaplain, who comes to Team meetings, but does not spend much time on campus apart from this – most Jewish events happen off-campus. He is paid from London, and having him appointed released the money. We have a Buddhist chaplain who is very supportive, and takes a full part, but is near retirement. Will we be able to find a replacement? A quick survey of other universities’ websites revealed a number of institutions where only Christian chaplains are listed: (Keele, King’s College, London, Bath, Oxford Brookes); a number where the faiths were not specified (Leeds, Aberdeen); a number with separate chaplaincies (Liverpool – only Christian; Aberdeen – separate Catholic chaplaincy); and the majority which have an apparently random mixture of full-time & part-time ‘chaplains’ (often two faiths, may or may not include Muslim, always include Christian, often Jewish, one Buddhist), and a mixture of other terms used: Faith advisors, Associate chaplains, Faith contacts, Honorary chaplains. A number do not specify faith, but simply say that they are there for people of all faiths and none. Is this honest? But if the other faiths do not come up with the money, what can be done? Is it sufficient to put “other faiths” on a website? In practice, in many cases the other faiths are represented entirely by student societies – and no chaplain or advisor (Keele, Bath).

Is it ever right in today’s world to have a Christian chaplaincy? Some universities, and not just Church ones, have it in their constitution. But once it is multi-faith it may be marginalized, not least because often the Christian Union, frequently the biggest Christian group on campus, will often have little to do with it. Clines states possible reasons for the chaplaincy being staffed only by Christians: confidence of existing chaplaincy staff in offering support to all HEI members, the specific context, a lack of aspiration to change, a lack of contacts with other religions. (Clines 2007:118). I would add: money, constitution.
Training in and deepening of one’s own faith

David Ford talks of a 4-fold deepening for chaplains who work in multi-faith contexts. Need to go 1) deeper into one’s own tradition/faith; 2) deeper into those of others; 3) deeper into engagement with the institution; and 4) deeper into mutual understanding among the team (Ford 2011:14). When we discussed this at our Team awayday, this was one of David Ford’s manifesto that got the most reaction (along with a couple of others). But how? In particular: How do we go deeper in our own faith, when time is of the essence? I know much more about Christianity than about most other faiths – therefore I should deepen my knowledge of others’, over and above Christianity. Or should I?

Training – where is the appropriate place to put that interfaith and multi-faith training? Is it our job as chaplains? The Religious Literacy project could have a role here. When we discussed David Ford’s paper as a team, another of the most popular elements of his manifesto was: “Spread religious literacy”. How?
LGBT issues. In the context of the 2010 Equalities legislation, Is it possible to have what the rest of the world feels is prejudice against those of LGBT as a chaplain / chaplaincy? I believe there is a particular role for chaplains in this area: some of the most vulnerable students on our campuses are those brought up in a religious home (not just Christian), who come to university and explore their sexuality. Where is their safe place? If not the chaplaincy, then where? This seems to be dictating a liberal model for chaplains.
Is it possible for an evangelical to be a chaplain in a multi-faith institution?

“non-Christian religions are essentially an idolatrous refashioning of divine revelation, which are antithetical and yet parasitic on Christian truth, and of which the gospel of Jesus Christ is this ‘subversive fulfilment’”. (D’Costa 2011:93)The growth in Christianity today is in those churches with this position. Because this is recognized as a legitimate Christian attitude to those of other faiths, is it possible for an evangelical to serve in a multi-faith chaplaincy?

The 2007 report Islam at universities in England puts into words the significance of the theology of the lead Christian chaplain: “Working in a team is not easy and working in an inter-faith chaplaincy may sometimes be particularly trying… If the Christians are seen to be too ‘liberal’ in their religious tradition that has an effect on Christian as well as Muslim fellow-chaplains who might disagree with that approach. If the Christian chaplaincy leader or team is strongly inclined to a fundamentalist/ exclusive approach, this can lead to the exclusion of the Muslim chaplain from the wider workings of chaplaincy (Siddiqui 2007:11). For Muslim, read any other faith. This is a recurring issue: the alternative is for chaplaincies for the different faiths to separate. Is this the alternative promised land?
Interfaith worship. I am under constant pressure to provide. An interfaith service was arranged at the cathedral – and the attendance was disappointing. I said how I was unable to support such an event – and people did not understand what I was saying. At the conference in the US, a university put on an event at the end of the academic year which included reflections on their time as a student: “Creating lively multi-faith experiences”. It was clearly a highlight of the chaplaincy year. When I asked a basic question about “What are we doing here? Who are we praying to? If anyone? Is this about God?” None of them could answer.
This is one road I am unhappy to follow. I am Vicar of the church in Newcastle which is known for its liberal theology, and proud of it. We host interfaith dialogue, I put together a week of events for Interfaith week this year, including dialogue between presidents of Jewish Soc, CU, CathSoc, and Islamic Soc; but I cannot support interfaith worship.
How do we increase the profile of chaplaincy in an institution proud to be ‘civic’ which it interprets as being non-religious? One way is to put on events which then get taken on by the university eg We do a Christmas dinner for students in Newcastle at Christmas, which is now an official university event. We need others.
What does mission mean to you? God’s mission – does it include proselytising? What is the mission of a chaplain? Is preparing students for baptism a form of proselytism? Perhaps we should spend the next few minutes putting into words what our mission is as chaplains. This is a very big question, and worthy of a whole paper in its own right.

  1. The promised land… Some ways forward:

Have a multi-faith awayday, and tackle some tricky issues!

A seminary for Christians & Muslims, and possibly for those of other faiths as well. Training for chaplains: in their own faith and in others’ faiths. Hartford Seminary, in the US, prepares both Christians and Muslims for chaplaincy. Are there moves towards establishing something similar here in the UK? Any leads from the Muslim end? Llandaff? Markfield?
Interfaith dialogue is great, but only attracts the very keen. In my promised land this happens, with the student societies on campus, with many members attending.
Being able to answer the question: What is chaplaincy? We need fora in which we can explore these issues.
The first speaker at the Global Chaplains conference 2012, Eboo Patel, said how Martin Luther King was a Baptist to his fingertips; he heard Gandhi, and his whole religious belief system was turned on its head. Thereafter he was a great multi-faith leader. Martin Luther King Jr started an address as follows: “I call you Heavenly Father, others call you Allah, others Elohim, Brahma”. Are we trying to create ‘great multi-faith leaders’? Eboo Patel is convinced they are nurtured not born.
Eboo Patel changed the course of his organisation (the Interfaith Youth Core) because of impact assessment. He had been trying to convert the nation via the media (& getting nowhere).Changed to: a) resourcing inter-faith work on the ground; and b) training interfaith leaders. Should we do something similar in chaplaincy?
Clines states: “Guidance that is considered and written collaboratively is urgently needed” (Clines 2008:122). Has it happened? Can we do it?
John Pritchard says how the job of ministry is always changing – that is a challenge. But the goal of ministry will always be the same: “that men and women in every place may have life in all its fullness and abundance”. Priests have to be ‘signs of stability in a bewildered world’. They have to be ‘God’s priests before they do priestly things’ (Pritchard 2007:xi). To remind ourselves how to be priests in today’s world, today’s multi-faith world.
I believe that the promised land exists, and we are moving towards it. And I feel confident that my vocation as a Christian priest is not endangered. But there is work to do.
Revd Catherine Lack

University chaplain

Newcastle University

Feb 2013

Block, J. Towards a theology of Buddhist chaplaincy. 2011 Buddhist Accessed February 2013

Church of England Board of Education Aiming higher: Higher Education and the church’s mission. London, C of E, 2005
Clines, J., Faiths in Higher Education Chaplaincy: A Report Commissioned by the Church of England Board of Education, 2008 Church of England Board of Education

D’Costa, G., Knitter P., & Strange D. Only one way? Three Christian responses to the uniqueness of Christ in a pluralistic world. London, SCM Press, 2011
Ford, D.F. Theology and chaplaincy in a multi-faith context: a manifesto. Cardiff, Cardiff Centre for Chaplaincy Studies, 2011 Accessed February 2013

Learning & Skills Council Faiths and further education: a handbook. Towards a whole-college approach to chaplaincy for a pluralist society. 2005.
Legood, G. ed: Chaplaincy: the church’s sector ministries. London, Cassell 1999
Livingstone, E. Oxford dictionary of the Christian church 1977
Pritchard, J. The life and work of a priest. London: SPCK 2007
Robinson, S. Ministry among students: a pastoral theology and handbook for practice. Norwich, Canterbury Press, 2004
Siddiqui, A. Islam at universities in England: meeting the needs and investing in the future. Markfield Institute: 2007 Accessed February 2013

Threlfall-Holmes M., and Newitt, M. Being a chaplain. London, SPCK 2011

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