For the last couple of years I’ve had the great opportunity of working with the Churches Together Tent at the Royal Norfolk Show. For those of you who are unaware of this particular county show, it is currently the largest Show of its kind within the country, to the point this year Norfolk made the national travel updates due to the amount of traffic on the roads… usually no one outside our county needs to know.
The first few years I had the privileged of an in-tent job working with the Messy church set up. The tent is often set out as a cafe with activities for children families or any one really who wants to get involved and then with activities around the perimeter focused on the theme as well as a prayer space. I loved woking on the Messy Church work, it gave both an opportunity to be messy but to allow the adults as much as anyone to have the space to discuss faith in a non threatening if not slightly unusual environment that was not judgemental but trying to offer support in all ways. It wasn’t just families but teachers as well, especially primary school teachers who were not necessarily comfortable with teaching RE found it great to allow their children to explore faith through both messy and Godly play. With the two years I spent in-tent so to say I had a great many conversations with visitors to the show.
These last two years my role has been different, with the interest in chaplaincy my minister gave me the great opportunity to join other ministers, nuns and local chaplains in being show chaplains. I remember last year being completely daunted with the task when they showed me ‘my patch’ so to say. Firstly I was young. There is no denying the fact that in the culture in which I am most often perceived (British or Western) I am not of the age to talk to unless I am talking to those of that age, who probably should still consult some on older. It is difficult to think that in some cultures by now I would probably have been married off by now with at least a couple of children to fend for. Yet I recognise currently I have to have a lot of confidence within my ability and my identity, in some ways I can not hide behind the idea that age is wisdom because I do not have the wrinkles to pull it off (not all wise people have wrinkles and not all old people have wrinkles not all old people are wise and not all wise people are old – just as a disclaimer.) I do not have the identity of a dog collar, and actually this is something that people still connect with. The dog collar in some places can still be seen as something to respect. I found this year on my first at the show sharing the role with some who wore a dog collar meant that some people spoke to me because of the lovely lady I was with, who would not even recognise me the second day, let alone give me the time of day in some cases, because of this natural authority and respect the dog collar still gave. It was not the same in all cases but I still had to make my own identity and communicate that to the people with out the very helpful aid of a dog collar. Personally, I would like to recognise that the chaplains would have done and did there job wether with or with out the dog collar. They do an incredibly difficult but rewarding job and I pray that all chaplains in all situations from simple show chaplains to forces chaplains, betting shop chaplains to canal chaplains train chaplains to hospital chaplains and beyond continue to rest in God and allow his Spirit to continue working in there work.