An open mind and a genuine interest in helping people are the vital traits you'll need to work as a chaplain

Chaplains are people of faith or philosophical beliefs who provide guidance and counselling to those in need in secular organisations.

A career in chaplaincy would suit you if you're interested in helping people, are a good listener and have the capacity to deal with a range of challenges presented by individuals seeking pastoral care. You should also enjoy giving practical help and support, often during times of crisis or personal difficulty.

Types of chaplaincy work

Chaplains work in a wide range of settings, including:

  • hospitals and other health and social care establishments, such as residential care and hospices
  • universities, schools and colleges
  • prisons
  • sports organisations, especially with football, cricket and rugby teams
  • industry - for example, a number of very large companies employ chaplains
  • community-based work, including community churches as well as commercial sites such as airports
  • the Armed Forces (though you are required to be ordained by a church and have experience to join).

Many chaplains in large organisations work as part of a full chaplaincy team that covers a wide range of faiths, known as a multi-faith chaplaincy. Larger teams are often found in hospitals, universities and prisons.

Responsibilities

As a chaplain, you'll need to:

  • respond effectively and promptly to requests for support, dealing with individuals on a one-to-one basis to provide counselling or pastoral support
  • normally work as part of a small multi-faith team
  • have the capacity to engage and work with people from a range of ethnic, social and faith backgrounds
  • undertake administrative tasks, maintain effective recording systems and respond to queries
  • keep accurate records of contacts and write reports
  • work within an environment governed by standards of conduct and behaviour.

Salary

Remuneration will depend upon the size and type of employing institution. For example, while NHS hospital chaplains are appointed to a standard scale, community chaplains may work part time and only receive the Minimum Wage or expenses. Prisons and universities tend to have a standard pay scale.

It should be noted that a number of chaplains across all sectors can be found working on a voluntary basis and some may work part time, which might include working in another paid role.

  • Starting salaries for chaplains are typically in the range of £22,500 to £25,000.
  • After five years of experience you can expect to earn around £30,000, if employed in a large public sector organisation. This could be lower in small-scale, not-for-profit organisations, such community chaplaincy.
  • As a senior chaplain (sometimes known as co-ordinating chaplain), you can expect to be earning between £31,000 and £38,000.
  • Chaplains in the Armed Forces earn around £38,000 a year, but you can only hold the role if you're a minister of religion with three years' experience after being ordained prior to applying.

Working hours

The normal working day will be office hours from 9am until 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. However, chaplains will usually have to work beyond this regime including evenings and weekends. This will be part of a rota system if you're in a substantive team, for example if you work in a healthcare setting.

Short-term contracts are less common than in other areas of work. Universities, for instance, offer numerous short-term teaching roles. Chaplains are generally offered permanent contracts, subject to a short probationary period. Job sharing is an option in larger public sector bodies.

What to expect

  • You'll need to gain relevant experience before entering a junior chaplaincy position, as the role is not usually open to those who have just obtained a degree, even in a relevant discipline such as theology.
  • Roles can be demanding and challenging, particularly if you're dealing with recently-bereaved families or individuals suffering anxiety and depression.
  • Your working day and volume of enquiries will vary according to the sector in which you work. This will depend upon the structure of the hosting organisation, whether you're the sole chaplain or part of a multi-faith team.
  • Typically you'll be required to take on long-term cases with individuals, providing pastoral support on a range of issues. Individuals seeking help may ask for support with relationship problems, bereavement, anxiety and depression and other personal problems.
  • Some chaplaincy positions are subject to an enhanced criminal record disclosure by the Disclosure and Barring Service in England and Wales, and Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme (PVG) in Scotland, run by Disclosure Scotland. Northern Ireland is covered by Access Northern Ireland (AccessNI).

Qualifications

Aspiring chaplains typically have a degree in theology or religious studies. In many situations, chaplains will be ordained as a priest within the Christian faith. There are exceptions to the requirement for being ordained, as roles are increasingly being opened up to people who have relevant experience.

A number of postgraduate programmes are available to train as a chaplain including non-Christian based courses. As chaplains can represent a wide range of faiths, including no-faith humanism, the required qualifications can vary. Theology, although useful, will not be a requirement for a non-Christian faith chaplain.

If you wish to enter chaplaincy work representing a non-Christian faith, it may be helpful to have studied a relevant degree subject, including:

  • sociology
  • social sciences and social policy, including areas such as criminology
  • social work
  • psychology
  • health and well-being
  • counselling
  • philosophy
  • humanistic pastoral care
  • world religions.

There are a number of Masters degree programmes that you may be eligible to apply for. Please check with institutions for their exact entry requirements, including any required work or voluntary experience.

There is a specialist Postgraduate Certificate in Healthcare Chaplaincy (all faiths) provided by Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London and accredited by South Bank University. This also provides an optional work placement based within Guy's and St Thomas'.

Muslim chaplaincy is covered by a certificate and Masters programme at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education at Newman College.

Skills

As a chaplain, you'll need to:

  • listen attentively to what an individual is saying
  • demonstrate empathy
  • communicate in all manners, especially face to face
  • have formal communication skills for presentations and report writing
  • excellent interpersonal skills, with the ability to establish good relationships with people
  • resilience and ability to deal with unforeseen situations
  • planning and organisational skills
  • a strong commitment to people who become vulnerable and an understanding of the factors affecting their lives
  • the ability to provide reliable support to people and act with integrity in times of stress
  • patience, tolerance and flexibility
  • the ability to treat individual concerns with respect, tact and sensitivity, while being aware of the limits that are required by confidentiality and the boundaries that govern the chaplain relationship with service users
  • have a great deal of resilience
  • a second language - while not essential, this can be useful if you intend to work with a relevant ethnic group, for example as a Muslim or Sikh chaplain.

Work experience

It's essential to have prior work experience before gaining a role as a member of a chaplaincy team. This can be paid or voluntary but needs to include working with people in a caring, counselling or pastoral capacity. Types of relevant work including youth work, advisory work such as career guidance and personal counselling, teaching, care work and social work. Voluntary work is widely available in chaplaincy teams, especially in hospitals and other health and social care settings, for example hospices and residential care.

To apply for work experience on a voluntary basis, you should contact the appropriate chaplaincy team in the organisation and make a speculative application with your CV. Make sure it demonstrates your potential and interest in working in a pastoral role. For NHS and university chaplaincy services go to the individual websites where you can find contact details for any speculative approaches.

Your CV will need to show your potential for this type of work by highlighting any skills gained working with people alongside evidence of effective communication and interpersonal skills.

Employers

Most opportunities are in the public, voluntary and not-for-profit sector with more limited openings in commerce and industry.

It's rare that you would work on a freelance or self-employed basis for this type of work. However, it's commonplace to find part-time roles.

The main employers in the UK are the NHS, the police and fire service, the prison service, universities, colleges and schools. Other settings include sports teams (most of the Premiership football clubs have a chaplain) and the armed forces. Smaller employers will include schools, housing associations, residential care homes and community organisations.

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You can also find opportunities through individual institutions, such as sports teams, universities and schools.

Professional development

Most people working in chaplaincy roles are, in most cases, expected to continue updating their skills and knowledge. In many cases these opportunities are provided by the individual church organisations and the amount of training available will depend on the denomination.

Non-Christian organisations will also provide continuing professional (CPD) opportunities. As chaplaincy is a role based in different settings, these opportunities will vary according to the sector. For example, healthcare chaplaincy professional development and standards are regulated by the UK Board of Healthcare Chaplaincy.

Programmes include one-week and shorter, one- to three-day courses in areas such as Reflection on Practice. For those ordained in the Armed Forces, comprehensive in-service training programmes are provided by the Army, Air Force and Navy. Specialist colleges provide CPD to university chaplains, some of which are accredited by universities.

Career prospects

After gaining up to five years' experience it should be possible to apply for more senior roles such as team leader or co-ordinator of a multi-faith chaplaincy. Opportunities will be greater in organisations where there is an established career structure, such as hospitals and universities.

There is less scope for progression to team leading and management roles in smaller-scale settings such as schools and community organisations. Within sports teams and the armed forces the role of chaplain is a specialist role, not part of a wider pastoral team as in healthcare. In these settings, there are very limited opportunities for promotion. However, the salaries may be the same or more than a senior chaplain in a public sector organisation, such as a hospital.

Chaplains are trained in and develop sound pastoral and counselling skills, and this could be transferable to other pastoral and counselling roles within a range of settings including hospitals, prisons, universities and community organisations. With further training, some chaplains move into full-time counselling roles which could lead to management positions within this area. Others have re-trained in teaching and entered headship positions.

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