A Very Modern Ministry – Theos chaplaincy research

MM-coverMM-coverHCFBG’s Chair and Chief Officer, together with a member of Council, attended the launch of A Very Modern Ministry, the new report on chaplaincy from Theos, on 11 March. A well attended conference at Friends’ House on London’s Euston Road heard presentations by the Revd Dr Andrew Todd, Director of the Cardiff Centre for Chaplaincy Studies, who had supervised the research, and from Ben Ryan, the report’s author. Dr Ataullah Sidiqui of the Markfield Institute of Higher Education and Professor Joy Carter, Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester, responded to the presentations.

HCFBG was one of the funders of the research and the report. You can download the report here. You can also buy a printed copy on Amazon.

Ben Ryan writes:

Is chaplaincy the future of religion in the UK?

At a time when UK society seems increasingly dominated by secular habits and assumptions, and when religious attendance and affiliation seem to be in decline, there are more and more stories of chaplaincy spreading into new settings. No longer – if indeed it was ever the case – are chaplains limited to Anglican clergy in a few institutional settings. Today chaplains are everywhere and include figures of all faiths and none.

This report is the first to take an in-depth quantitative and qualitative look at chaplaincy in Britain, encompassing the full range of denominations, religions, and belief systems – including nonreligious beliefs – as well as an astonishingly wide range of contexts – from prisons and schools to canals and theatres. Based on over 100 interviews with chaplains, users, colleagues, employers and stakeholders, it analyses both where chaplains are and what they’re doing, and pays particular attention to the question of what difference they make. What should chaplains, the contexts in which they operate, and the organisations to which they belong do to make their role as effective as possible? Chaplaincy is a very modern ministry, one that seems especially suited to modern British society and that seems likely to become a dominant feature of the in ever-changing landscape of religion in Britain.

In his foreword, Nick Spencer, Research Director of Theos, writes:

The biggest changes are those you don’t notice. So it may be with religion in 21st century Britain.

Everyone knows about falling religious affiliation and about declining church attendance. They have become truisms, albeit truisms betrayed by sub-plots about Islam, Catholicism, Evangelicalism, and black majority churches.

Yet, while religion in Britain has been shrinking, it has also been changing, and not simply in its composition. There is good reason to believe the model of British religion is in flux. Specifically, there are signs that having long been informed by the idea that the faithful will come to us, nowadays the religious are going to the faithful – and, indeed, to the unfaithful. In short, the model is shifting from ‘church’ to ‘chapel’.

Chaplaincy in the UK has long been associated with Christianity, and with a limited range of traditional sectors: education, the military, prisons. Even if neither association was ever entirely true, both captured the essence of chaplaincy. We knew who chaplains were, we knew what they did and we knew where to find them.

Nowadays that is no longer the case. Chaplains are everywhere, operating in every conceivable sector and from every conceivable religious base, and increasingly non- religious ones. The proverbial man in the street seems as – perhaps more – likely to meet a chaplain in his daily life today as he is to meet any other formal religious figure.

This should not surprise. In an increasingly hyper-mobile society, where identities and communities of choice are replacing those of birth and geography, it makes sense for religious groups to go to where people are, rather than wait for them to come home. This doesn’t, of course, mean that the gathered congregation will disappear, or even lose any of its crucial significance. Gathering together is not simply a different way of being religious alone – it offers and provides different things.

It does, however, mean that we are witnessing a subtly but significantly changing religious landscape in which ‘faith’, having been associated primarily with visible – and visibly diminishing – religious locations, turns out to be rather more present that many imagined.

Ben Ryan’s massive and meticulous study explores this changing phenomenon with great acuity. Drawing on desk research; a detailed, geographically-focused quantitative case study – to give some idea of the picture on the ground; and over a hundred in-depth interviews with chaplains, those whom they work with and those whom they work for, it analyses not only the spread of chaplaincy provision, but also poses serious questions about whether and how chaplains actually make a difference.

The result is a penetrating study, as comprehensive as has been so far conducted, that shines light on chaplaincy and on religion in the UK today.


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