Earlier this year, our Circuit held a workshop led by Rev Robert Jones, to help us understand more about the role of a chaplain. Chaplaincy is already well established in the Forces, in education and young people's work, in hospitals, hospices and care homes, in agriculture, in prisons or in civic life. In more recent years there has been a growth in chaplaincy in shopping centres and businesses and in other work places.
So what is a chaplain?
A chaplain offers a visible Christian presence, interacting with people in the community or in the workplace and is someone who goes out to where people are, to listen, to be alongside, to be a guest not a host. Chaplaincy is not about "gathering in" — inviting people to "join us" — but more about "going out", reflecting the ministry of Jesus who went out to minister wherever people were and he sent out his disciples to go and do the same.
A chaplain is available to those with faith and those who don't profess faith. Their role is not to preach but to listen and respond and if invited to do so, discuss their Christian faith.
Our vision — of providing chaplains where people live rather than where they work — seems to be new. Working collaboratively with other churches, we seek to offer chaplaincy in new housing areas. Our focus has been on Great Western Park (GWP), the first and most advanced of the major developments planned in our Circuit.
Whilst continuing to wander the parks and alleys of Great Western Park, they are both very much welcomed by a number of people who live and work there.
They regularly go into one of the local secondary schools to have lunch with students, give the occasional assembly at Stephen Freeman School, and support the work of the Rainbows, Brownies, Guides, and various Mums & Tots' groups.
They regularly meet with the Manager of The Station Pub; Salespeople at McCarthy & Stone — the local retirement home; the Manager of the corner shop; and Chair to the Residents' Association.
They bring concerns to Residents' Association meetings, share in the fellowship at the Thursday morning Community Cafe, and are valued members of the wider community.
In December, they will trialling a different use for the chaplaincy motorhome, Hope, by turning her into a mobile prayer space. They are delighted to have been invited by many of the groups with whom they have contacts to host some time out in the busyness of the run-up to Christmas. You're very welcome to go and check this out
for yourself. They will be open at the following times:
They rely on the prayers and encouragement of everyone in our churches as they seek to serve God in new and exciting ways. Please pray also for Rev. Katherine Pickeirng as she pioneers the extra role of line-managing the chaplains, and for the support group who help the team in so many ways.
We recruited two part-time community chaplains, Sarah Ifill and Libby Hawkness-Smith, in April and they started work at Great Western Park in May. Here, they build relationships and complement other Christian initiatives, such as the flourishing community café and Rev Mark Bodeker's work establishing a new Anglican church, based at the UTC college.
As their mobile base and visible presence, they use a small motorhome, christened "Hope" and blessed at the Circuit service where the Chaplains were commissioned in July. "Hope" stands out with its new logo, designed by Tom Atkinson, a Didcot Methodist member.
Look out for "Hope", and Libby and Sarah, on GWP now!