Sheffield Day Conference, July 8, 2013


In the photo: on my left, Christopher Chester CA, Chief Executive, South Yorkshire Workplace Chaplaincy, who was my host and organised and chaired the conference, Rev Debbie Hodge, Chief Officer Multi Faith Group for Healthcare Chaplaincy in the National Health Service and Andrew Cropley, Executive Director for Strategic Planning and Business Development at The Sheffield College, which provided the venue.

The theme of the conference was “Multifaith Chaplaincy in the UK Public Sector”. It was attended by chaplains working in various settings and religious leaders and advisors in Further Education.

Sheffield is a pleasant city, and the only one in the UK that bears a Trademark – no-one can use the word “Sheffield” without permission. Because it was here that the famous Sheffield Stainless Steel was invented. So I should have not been surprised when meeting a workplace chaplain with title “Steel Chaplain”!

The title for my presentation was ‘University Chaplaincy as a Public Service’. I will post it on
The addresses by Debbie Hodge and Andrew Cropley were recorded, so they will be available sometime soon as audio files.

The four of us had dinner together the night before, with Rosa Leto, who had just been appointed Director of Multifaith Chaplaincy Services to work with Chris. We had a wonderful time together, a spirit that would flow into the conference the next day.

I was most interested in what Andrew would have to say. His topic was ‘ Why would a Further Education College want a multifaith chaplaincy service? Is the college a stakeholder or a bystander?’ It was clear that Sheffield College had decided to be a stakeholder and that they were in the process of establishing what that means.

Andrew had spent a significant time in the defense forces heading up the linguistics section. He had experienced good chaplaincy first hand, particularly when three of their graduates had lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was reminded of a Student Counsellor at the University of Western Sydney who is a great advocate for university chaplaincy because of his experience in the army, and that in secular institutions you don’t need to have religious affiliation to appreciate what good chaplaincy can offer.

Andrew reminded me that ‘being in command can be a lonely place’, and went on to describe what he has appreciated in his defense forces chaplain, as friend,  confidant, doubter, critic, ally, open channel and one who is always there in difficult times.

I will be following with some interest how Shefffield College go about ‘creating a community of belonging’ with over 17,000 students from multiple communities who more often than not see the college as just a place of work or study, without clear routines or patterns of attendance. But I sense that they are going to rise to the challenge and Andrew already has some plans in mind.

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