Chaplains – Jesus’ Hands and Feet in the Playground

by Kathryn Kane July 26, 2019 A

In all honesty the last place I would want to hang out during a school break time is the playground in an all-boys school but this was where I found myself last week on a visit to one of our Secondary School chaplains. It was noisy and chaotic, basketballs and footballs were whizzing past my head at a velocity that could decapitate me, or at least end in a nasty bruise, and young men a foot taller than me were charging past at speed. I felt in imminent danger of injury, but our school chaplain stepped into the environment with ease.

School chaplains fulfil an amazing role in the life of a school. Most parish priests only see a fraction of their parishioners during the week and yet the school chaplain functions within a community where they interact with 1000+ staff, students and their families five days a week during term time and often outside term time too.

John Caperon identified six dimensions of the work of School Chaplains: Pastoral, offering care to all in a multi-cultural, multi-faith community; Liturgical, arranging celebrations and delivery of collective worship;  Spiritual, undertaking the spiritual leadership of the school and ensuring there was time for spiritual reflection; Missional, ‘nurturing those of the faith; encouraging those of other faiths; and understanding, relating to and challenging those of no faith’; Prophetic, being a clear voice for Christian values and ethos;  and Pedagogic, preparing those who chose to be baptised, confirmed and contributing to the community’s understanding of the Christian life and faith.

Circumnavigating the chaos that was the boy’s playground at break time, I witnessed my chaplain excelling in his pastoral gifting. He started by chatting with a couple of teachers, his care for them in a busy time of exams, marking, teaching and open days went beyond just asking them about work. His conversations with them showed that he had developed a relationship beyond what they did, he really knew them and the things that were important to them.

It was obvious that he also really knew the students in the playground too and that he understood how to talk with each of them. He knew who to be serious with and who to joke with; he changed his tone to interact with each boy just where he was at. That takes time and intentionally getting to know each individual. The students were confident in their relationship with the chaplain and talked and joked with ease.

The community police officer and a member of the senior leadership team were also in the playground that morning. The chaplain took time to chat with them, to ask about them and also the challenges that they were facing.

The Occupational Standards for Christian Chaplaincy with Children and Young People states that “Chaplains are incarnational. They have moved into the neighbourhood as God moved into the world”. That morning I saw a chaplain who was very much part of his school community but was not confined by it. He created space where God could be encountered and lived out God’s love and care for those he met. That break-time he talked with staff, students and the police, journeying with them and being Jesus’ hands and feet in the playground.