Doing Chaplaincy – a sermon shared with the Police Chaplaincy UK Conference 2022

“At any time you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it?” (John O’Donohue)

I have been to this place before, but not to this conference – so this is, in a very real sense, a new threshold for me.

I became a police chaplain during the pandemic. I’d given up congregation-based ministry in order to take up a post with a denominational college. I’d moved to rural North Wales, set about learning Welsh, and felt nothing but welcome in the small Welsh-speaking village that I’d moved to.

It was this welcome that inspired me to want to give something back to the community, which is what set me on my journey towards police chaplaincy.

We could all tell our stories about what drew us into this work.
For me, offering chaplaincy isn’t so much a gift I can give, but a gift I’ve received, even though I’m still working out what to do with that gift.

People of faith, particularly those who serve in a professional capacity often talk about callings. ‘When were you called to ministry?’ people ask.

I wish I could give a dramatic answer that involved great flashes of light and moments of revelation. It didn’t happen that way for me. I just gradually became aware this is what I should be doing and one day, I plucked up the courage to cross the threshold.

It’s the same with chaplaincy. I became aware that it’s something I should do, and I crossed the threshold.

And I hope and I pray that something greater is at work. Something that works with me, through me, and sometimes despite me.

We dare to cross the threshold so that connections can be made: both in our chaplaincy work and here in this conference.

I see that we have a full and long timetable. I have to say that I am not a morning person! I always say that the reason I don’t pray as soon as I awake is that God does not want to hear what I have to say before I have had at least 2 mugs of black coffee! The Bible says that when we grunt and groan in prayer the Spirit interprets and intercedes for us – but I don’t know if that extends as far as the sounds I make when the alarm clock goes off much earlier than I would like!

I’ve always felt incredibly blessed: throughout my career I have, generally, been able to choose my own hours. I’ve never been tied into a shift pattern or had a long commute. When I was a church Minister my commute was 20 seconds as I walked from the parsonage to the church.

The police have my admiration for myriad reasons – and high on the list is the fact they cope with changing shift patterns, working unsociable hours 365 days of the year. A pattern that is bound to take its toll on social and family life.

As chaplains we can’t walk in the shoes of those we serve (and nor would I want to, to be honest) – though we can walk alongside for a time when invited. And we can help to provide that space where anything can be said.

So if my chaplaincy phone ever happens to ring early in the morning, or in the dead of night, I hope I’ll be alert enough to answer it. I hope that I’ll be attentive enough to listen and, if words need to be offered, that they will be the right ones.

The police don’t work nice comfortable hours, so I suppose police chaplains can’t expect to either!

“There’s the meaning of a faith that really works, a spirit that goes on till evening comes…” (Raymond Baughan)

And when we are not sure how best to respond or what best to say, then maybe we’ll hear a voice whispering to us: My grace is sufficient for thee. (The Bible)

Grace, which has brought us safe thus far and will, we pray, bring us and our police colleagues safely home.

John O’Donohue reminds us:
“A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time…”

I tell my ministry students that much of the work of ministry is being fully present with people. The same, we know, applies to the work of chaplaincy.

I guess a mistake many of us made early in ministry was thinking we knew what the destination was in any given situation: that we needed to be the one to say the right word, or something profound and spiritual that would put people on the right road. But as I matured, a little, in ministry I realised that my role was not to have the all the answers, but to give people space to ask the questions and to find the right answers for them.

I suppose I’m very lucky: I work with a police force where everything is in two languages. And for me, who is not a fluent Welsh speaker, it means I have to listen even more attentively and choose carefully the words I will say.

Now I was brought up in the Pentecostal Church, although that’s not the faith tradition I would later embrace.

I remember, as a boy, singing hymns like:
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.’

I don’t express my faith in quite the same way today – – but I can still appreciate the imagery of the solid ground of faith.

But I also aware of what Emerson said: “We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Do we stand, or do we move? And can you you skate on sinking sand? Maybe, if you keep moving. And move we must.

Even though we may stand on the truths of our faiths, we must keep moving.

We cannot stay in one place forever, lest we stagnate and begin to sink. Nice as it is to be together. Nice as it is to talk about chaplaincy……

But talking about chaplaincy is not the same as doing chaplaincy.

And so the time will come when we will go our separate ways. We will go back to our own contexts. We will get on with the work.

Hopefully, we will go back better equipped and encouraged. Glad, I hope, that we took the time to be here.

Perhaps there will still be times when we aren’t sure of ourselves and abilities. May we skate well over those times.

For what we do, I believe, is much-needed work. But thankfully it doesn’t just depend on us alone:

“Go and build the sanctuary! Do not lose heart or be afraid or panic or be in dread, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you.” (The Bible)

And now let us pray:
Each in our own way, we hold in our minds and hearts those who serve in the police

We call to mind those who uphold our laws, who keep us safe, who respond to incidents and accidents, and who work together whenever there is danger.

We call to mind those whose serve out on the front line and those who work behind the scenes in stations and offices.

In this moment we pause….
We think…
We pray…
We hold them in the light.

May those who serve in the police have:
-colleagues that they can rely on
-Friends that they can relax with
– People in their lives they can talk to
– Time off to spend with loved ones

May those who serve in the police:
– Be safe
– Make wise decisions in difficult circumstances
– Know that their service is appreciated
– Find fulfilment in their work

We pray a blessing on those in active service and those who are now retired.
We pray a blessing on those serving in paid or in volunteer roles.
We pray a blessing on those considering a career in the police.
And we ask a blessing on us – the police chaplains – who seek to support those who serve.

Published by revanthowe

Unitarian Minister living in rural North Wales.

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