Chaplaincy is not the first arena that people probably consider when they think of a blog frequently focused on liturgy, or music, or ecclesiology, but it has been on my mind the last few weeks as I find myself taking on an additional role. Due to the abrupt departure of a university chaplain, two of us are covering for a number of months, I with the “priestly” parts of Sunday Eucharist and sacramental ministry, my talented partner with the bulk of the work in weekday administration and presence. So far, so good. But as with any chaplaincy position, whether hospital, prison, university, or other, the title assumes that chaplaincy is for all peoples, and more to the point, for people of all religions or no religion. Chaplaincy becomes a double-edged sword, both belonging to a particular expression of the church, while at the same time belonging to the public space, the plaza, where there is a minimum of ‘religion’ and/or overt hostility to ‘church.’ The tension of liminality is hard work when trying not to make a mis-step between those two realities. Looking for clarity was not helped when we reviewed the published descriptions of what the chaplain in our particular school was to do. Here are two paragraphs written by two different previous chaplains:
“[this] is an institution rooted in the Anglican tradition, and that unique identity is what continues to set us apart from [the larger university]. For this reason, the chaplain is always an Anglican priest. However, the chaplaincy service is available to all people, regardless of their background, beliefs or religious identity.”
“Chaplaincy is not about trying to convert anyone into any one way of thinking. It is not about promoting the Anglican Church of Canada, the Christian tradition, or religious belief in general. There are no fees for our services, and no strings attached.”
Those who are chaplains, especially in a university setting, will probably nod their head and say, yes, that’s the way it must be. There is a particular depth of ministry and a freedom of conversation that can happen with, in this case, the Anglican students, potentially different conversations with other Christians, and a third set of conversations with non-Christian, and/or non-religious students. But the latter conversation is often a pastoral ministry of listening, which also means that out of care not to “promote” Christianity, it becomes by default a therapeutic model of ministry, divorced from faith. Regardless of our particular ecclesial allegiance, there is a tension with a description like “not trying to convert anyone” when as baptized Christians we have put on Christ for the world and stand within that identity. In reflecting on education and formation for those to be ordained, The Rev. Dr. Julia Gatta wrote:
“recent years have seen a movement away from a therapeutic, care-giving model of the pastoral vocation toward a more robust vision of pastoral oversight. Part of the problem with the therapeutic model for pastors was the uncritical adoption of values somewhat incongruous with Christian ministry…The net result of decades of “nonjudgmental” pastoring has been widespread ignorance of the Christian kerygma, incomprehension of basic theological doctrine, and moral drift.” (2010: The Nearness of God, 112)
Chaplaincy, in its both/and reality, has often suffered from a lack of placed-ness because of the perceived compromise that is therapeutic pastoral care for the sake of peace, at the expense of the baptismal promise to “proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.” How do we do this from where we stand?
In an ongoing reflection on practice and faith with regard to this brief stint in chaplaincy, two helpful lessons from different places come to mind. The first is the gentle clarity of Dr. Judith Berling in teaching on interfaith conversation. She reminds her students that comparative theology is about growth in understanding the other which assumes we begin by learning our own tradition and encounter the other from that place. In the case of chaplaincy, it is not in spite of my baptism, or in spite of faith in Jesus Christ, or in spite of the vows I have made to a specific expression of the body of Christ that I welcome and engage with others, but because of it. It is because of this placed-ness that Christians “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbour…” The second source is the articulation of being ‘between’, being in the ‘middle way’ found in a proper collect (opening prayer) now assigned to the liturgical commemoration of Richard Hooker, the foremost Anglican theologian of the 16th century: “O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”
May we find in all our ministries ways of comprehension for the sake of truth, rather than compromise for the sake of peace!