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Member’s Review, by Mike Rattenbury

I was attracted to this book by the prospect of a theology of chaplaincy, and in the end wasn’t disappointed.
I did wonder, at first, as Victoria Slater quickly acknowledged that this is based on community chaplaincy from an Anglican perspective. And early on, Slater speaks of chaplaincy as “being accountable to, and representing the Church,” rather than “being accountable to, but not representing the Church. This appeared increasingly far from the generic, multi-faith spiritual care that we commonly find in hospices and palliative care units.
But, just as faith-based foundations must accept ‘no proselytising’, and secular foundations must provide spiritual care, the gap can be more apparent than real. And this proved to be so here. ‘Representing’ was more in terms of the chaplain being an unconditional service to the community, with ‘mission’ defined as ‘sent out to be with’ people, supporting them unconditionally rather than recruiting them.

So what aspects are covered, that a healthcare chaplain might find relevant?
The range of areas that chaplaincy now covers is remarkable, as is the diversity of roles and expectations. Slater uses a Case Study approach to identify common aspects, common needs (e.g. lack of available training) and the importance of a professional approach, however part-time the role is.
Many chaplains feel marginalised by churches that prioritise congregational life and ministry, and by organisations that employ a chaplain, but don’t really know why. Slater covers this well.
While chaplains may feel marginalised by faith communities, those communities are often declining, and Slater argues that chaplaincy may be closer to where the communities ought to be, and therefore have much to offer.
Being widely underrepresented, misunderstood, and overlooked, is partly due to a failure to communicate. Slater highlights the need for more research-based evidence, and also argues for greater assertiveness, as chaplains have specialist skills, knowledge, and insights that their faith communities need.

The theological aspects include ‘chaplaincy as mission’, ‘chaplaincy as ministry’ and the chaplain’s relationship to their own faith.
Slater’s greatest strength is to present chaplaincy as an overlooked genre of ministry, with much to offer a mission-minded church – provided that the church views mission as serving without expecting anything in return. The Case Studies indicate many areas within the community where chaplaincy could usefully be developed.

What does this book offer healthcare chaplains? Most of all, it prompts reflection: how well understood is my role; and what is my theology of chaplaincy? It may probe our relations with the faith communities we are accountable to. It offers useful insights into leading volunteers. It might make us value the AHPCC regional groups more highly! And it might even challenge us to consider how we could support chaplains who often have minimal support, training or recognition.

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