It's hard to know where the journey started. I've felt for years that it's not enough to open the doors of the church and wait for people to come. We have to go where people are, as Jesus did.
On way of doing this is chaplaincy. In my view it's not rocket science. It's about being caring and interested in people wherever we meet them. We all try to support our family and friends, in effect being chaplains to them, though never using that word.
I was lucky enough to get early retirement, and in 2009 I became a part-time volunteer chaplain to South Yorkshire Police. I started visiting the officers and staff at Snig Hill station in Sheffield for two or three hours a week. Later I started going to Woodseats station and the new HQ at Carbrook as well.
What do I do? I talk to people. I pray. I try to remember names. I'm often offered a cuppa, and I sometimes go out and buy milk if needed, make drinks and wash up.
It's interesting. I see more about what goes on than most people. Every week I'm impressed by the range of tasks the Police tackle, the skills and knowledge they apply, and how hard they work, often long and unsocial hours.
It's a privilege. I have access to everyone from the cleaner to the Chief Constable. I'm conscious that I'm a guest on someone else's turf, and their rules apply. I try to recognise when people are too busy and focused to be distracted. Conversations are often about football or holidays, but even that shows that someone cares. And sometimes people want to unload a burden they are carrying.
And they do carry some heavy burdens. Someone said recently that any uniformed officer who has served more than a few months suffers from PTSD. At any time 10% are off with stress related illness. The officers all face their share of domestic violence and death. They never know what lies behind a front door they knock on. Every year there is a memorial service in the Cathedral honouring those who died in service. But there is laughter too, and banter among colleagues, which helps to release some of the tension.
South Yorkshire Police has been through hard times, as we all know. A prominent politician described them as 'rotten to the core'. That did not square with the people I know. They are now rated much more highly by the national inspectors. Some Christian colleagues date the start of the change to the National Day of Prayer for the Emergency Services some years ago, when a few of us walked several times round the HQ building in prayer. Could it be..?
There used to be six chaplains. Three of us were Methodist, and one was Wesleyan Reform – yes, chaplaincy is in our DNA. Covid reduced our numbers, and we need more. Could you spare two or three hours a week? If you feel God might be nudging you, please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org