Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fresh Expressions of Hospital Chaplaincy

Last week I did a hospital chaplaincy study day for the team at our local hospital in Yeovil. They had questions around prayer, worship patterns, children, and how to respond to patients who are on a spiritual journey but don't come to chapel services.

So here's what we did:

Mapping current work: asked everyone there (paid chaplain plus team of volunteers) to write on post-it's all the things they did, one post it for each item. We then stuck them on the wall in groups around common themes. The two biggest clusters were the chapel service and ward visits, with other smaller groups for training, hospital leadership, visitors, etc.

a few primer questions: where is the shoe pinching, what would they like to develop.

Change - in the NHS. We brainstormed how the health sector had changed in the last 20 years, then using material from the Tomorrow Project, looked at some of the key factors in change for the next 20.

coffee break

Change - in society. Presentation on the transition from Christendom to post-Christendom, and what this means for the way the church does mission. Powerpoints put together from a variety of sources: stats in Bob Jacksons 'Hope for the Church' on Anglican decline, graphics from George Lings (e.g. here, warning: big file), plus the TEAR Fund research on churchgoing (chart here). The final ingredient was the recent research into the 'spiritual age', with both the rise in interest and spiritual experiences across the general population, and the life issues which 'spiritual' people relate to.


Mapping the hospital: brainstorm of the different groups within the hospital - quite a diversity, as it turned out, from volunteers at the trolley shop to visitors to patients with a wide range of profiles. We then compared where the current effort goes with where people are, and looked at some possible connections (e.g. giving prayer cards to the trolley shop, so that they can sell them, rather than everything having to come through the chaplaincy team)

That turned into a general discussion about how the work could be developed, and how far we'd got from the primer questions at the start of the day.

What next: asked people to describe the kind of chaplaincy they'd like to see in 3 years time, then what would need to happen in the next 6 months to bring that about.

It seemed to go very well, a very fruitful time, with lots of good ideas. Though other hospitals I know have stopped putting lots of resources into a chapel service in favour of ward-based ministry, the mood seemed to be more for a mixed economy, as it was still local Christians who made the most direct demands on chaplaincy services. There was a deeper question there of 'who is this chaplaincy for?' which could be explored a bit more!!

If you're interested in the powerpoints and other material for the day, drop me a line/email/Facebook message and I'll happily pass them on. I've not yet worked out if I can upload files through Blogger, so if you're a techie and can tell me how to do it then I might even add them here.

Ideas which might have some life in them included:
- hosting seminars on ethical issues for hospital staff/wider community

- exploring how technology could be used to make worship available to patients during the week: e.g. CD player or ipod based service. May be beyond the resources of a single chaplaincy, but if several clubbed together and tapped into a Diocesan mission fund....

- involving other people in spiritual ministry: e.g. letting nurses and shops have prayer cards, 'footprints' or 23rd psalm are accessible to most people.

- decentralising the chapel, having some kind of prayer station on each ward for prayer requests, contemplation etc. We looked at one example of a church in Weston super-mare which is open throughout the day, as part of a larger Healthy Living Centre, and has a little 'shrine' with votive candles, a water feature, cards for prayer requests etc., which sits in the corner and is a lovely contemplative space for people.

- Things to give people: Bibles are often too heavy going for people who are ill, but a holding cross, or something tangible, can actually enable people to express things in other ways.


  1. Interesting reading, especially the Power Point.

    What does concern me, however, is the continued insistence upon getting people in to Church. It seems to me that many of these working groups only see success as being 'bums on seats', and that a valid response to outreach is getting people through the church door.

    I'm sorry, call me radical if you wish, but I thought my role as a Christian Chaplain was to bring people to a living and working relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, not a living and working relationship with the church down the road.

    This is the paradigm shift we need to get in peoples minds, especially many of our so-called leaders.

    It is from a relationship with our Lord that the Unchurched (and yes, I will still use that tag, even if it is seen as UN PC by some) will want to develop a relationship with their local church. Raising Church attendance should always be a secondary goal way below bringing the Good News to those who have not had the chance to hear it.

    Yes, Churches will die, buildings will be lost, but the Christian faith is far bigger than the buildings that followers choose to worship in (of which, by the way, even the oldest in the UK was not built until almost 600 years after the death of Christ... the Faith survived well without for a long time). If we focus upon raising Christians, not Church roofs, then the latter will inevitably follow the former.

  2. Pay attention, Keen !


  3. RevEv: agree completely, I think the chapel finds that they get people asking about the chapel service, and for Christians it's important to have it there. My question is whether all the work and time which goes into the chapel service on a Sunday is the best way to invest scarce resources. Back to 'who is the chaplaincy for?'

    Other hospitals have asked the same question, and this has led them to shut down their Sunday services to release time for other work.