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Moving On - a Reflection

By Stephen Henwood.

After serving as Chaplaincy Team Leader in a large hospice for eighteen years, I have recently moved into church based pastoral ministry. It has been quite a change, one that I have found has brought refreshment and a new challenge and a real sense this is where God wants me to be.

You become familiar and comfortable with your surroundings and change brings its own stress and strain as you relearn the ropes. You enter the world of a church family who know each other and everyone seems to know a great deal about you. After just over six months, I am still learning and I realise there is still a great deal to learn, but it is fun and I am enjoying it.

I have been thinking about the two different environments and this reflection is highly personal and is not intended to be critical. I am not suggesting one environment’s way of doing things is better than the other, but I do feel the church has lessons to learn.

So here is my reflection on this transition.

The way of being nominated for a ministerial post is unique

When I applied for the post at the hospice I filled in an application form and they were interested, not just in my qualifications, but my conviction I was bringing the right skills and experiences to the post. What I had achieved and developed so far was critical in gaining an interview.

Our nomination profile sent to churches seeking a minister from the Regional Minister of the Baptist Union is a peculiar document. It ignores these questions and gives little scope for the minister to write about what they have achieved so far. This needs to change and reflect normal application forms. As a church looks to the future they need to know which candidates have the skill mix for their church. A prospective minister may tick all the right theological boxes, but lack the skills for a particular church.

The first day

At the hospice I met the Personnel Officer (it was before they evolved into Human Resources) and had a tour of the buildings so I would not get lost searching out colleagues. I got to know the feel of the place and learned where to buy refreshments. The security alarms were explained and I was told when the fire alarm was tested.

In church based ministry the first day lacked any of the above and there was no one to tell me about the church, its environment or what required my attention in the first days. My church was wise making sure I knew about such matters, but not all churches do so. Many Ministers spend the first day alone trying to find out such things. I am left feeling that it could and should be better and churches need to learn how to make this important day more significant for the newly appointed minister.

What about a work-place assessment?

This is designed to make sure that your desk, computer and chair are in the right relationship with each other so that a person avoids unnecessary strain on the back, legs and other parts of the body. Lighting and heating are also taken into consideration. If the assessment fails then the employer needs to take steps to protect the safety of the employee. Who assess the minister? Does the church provide a proper office chair, desk, computer and printer? If not, they must. No minister should provide equipment in order to discharge the duties for which they have been appointed. I fear some do.

Induction Programme

At the hospice there was a planned Induction Programme mapped out. This was an excellent way of meeting people and learning about their role in the organisation. It would be good if churches did the same for a new minister so that they can quickly start to understand how the church functions. This would give the opportunity to meet key people and to understand all the things that most members assume you know.

Working hours, how many?

Ministers are Office Holders rather than employees, which means they do not have a normal job description. I knew my contracted hours at the hospice were 37.5 over 5 days. Often I would exceed this, but I knew when I had completed a week’s work. Why has no one told me how many hours I should work, but stipulate a 6 day working week? This is so out of touch with a world which allows employees family friendly contracts with five days being worked in four or working mainly in Term time and two days a week free of work responsibilities. It seems burnout is a common malady of ministers. Could it be they work too much and need guidance which comes from a clearly set out statement of responsibilities? I was told these developments would never work in ministry, but I feel they have never been tried.

Personal safety

Who knows when a minister arrives home after an evening appointment? When visiting alone as hospice chaplain in the community I needed to let people know where I was and, when home, I was expected to report I had arrived safely. A married minister has a caring spouse, but if the minister is single, who would miss them? I did not need to say who I was visiting, so confidentiality was maintained. Perhaps Church leadership teams should seek to provide something similar as part of their duty to care for their minister.

Ongoing training

Health Care Chaplains are always been encouraged to seek ongoing training to make sure they have the knowledge, skills and experience to discharge their duties as Chaplain. Courses have to be validated so their learning content is relevant, and Continual Professional Development (CPD) points are awarded. At appraisal time it is important to demonstrate how you have transferred learning into practice. Usually these courses last for a day.

So far I have not discovered an equivalent for Church ministers. True, I could opt for a Masters Degree or Counselling qualification, but they are not the same as professional development. There are many theological, ethical and practical matters that would provide excellent CPD days. I am disturbed to think a minister could practise for years relying on what they were taught in Theological College – in today’s changing world, skills need to be continually updated.

The need to see people

I do miss having colleagues around with whom I could share all sorts of things. It may be last night’s football, family news or proposed holidays. Then there was the important aspect of working together, talking about how, as a team, we could offer meaningful help and support to a patient and their family. I miss being head of a team and bouncing ideas with others. Church ministry can be a lonely life unless you make sure you take positive steps to see people. Visiting members of the congregation is a joy and I regret there not as much time for this as I would have liked, but it needs to be done for one’s sanity as well as helping people who often speak with you about personal hopes, fears and joys.

It has been good to be welcomed by members, to feel part of a Christian community and to think, plan and pray together about the future of the church. I think church-based ministry faces many challenges and changes, yet I still believe the words of Jesus when he said he would build his church.

Stephen Henwood

The Revd Stephen Henwood is a Baptist minister and Chaplaincy Team Leader at St Francis' Hospice, Romford Essex.

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You are reading Moving On - a Reflection by Stephen Henwood, part of Issue 56 of Ministry Today, published in November 2012.

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