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29 September 2023

Practising chaplaincy in a traditional setting

David Newlove, agricultural chaplain

If asked; what's the best piece of advice I've received from another chaplain? It would be don't just do something, stand there! True, it doesn't work in all contexts. As a Hospital Chaplain (my other expression) I don't think staff would be best pleased if I took up space in a busy ward or corridor standing round like a spare part. But in agricultural chaplaincy it is really good advice.

Agricultural Chaplaincy is very much Church being out there. The only thing about it that resembles church is my clerical collar (and the cross in the logo on my jacket). It's both liberating and scary in equal measure. Liberating, that I am free from the limitations and responsibilities our buildings can bring as well as from the many more obligations and expectations from others. Scary, because I don't have all those things to hide behind or orientate with.

My usual practice is to attend the weekly sales at the Borderway Auction Mart. When I asked the local farmers what day was the best (there are regularly 3-5 sale days a week here) they replied "Wednesday". I said why Wednesday? And they replied "because that's when we're here". My activities include visiting each of the sale rings, walking around the pens and having my dinner – which is the best place to catch folk for the longer conversations.

I've extended my role by joining the Farming Community Network (FCN) and act as the County Chaplain for Cumbria. This is a great organisation and I spend the majority of my time supporting the frontline volunteers.

Occasionally FCN and the Cumbria Agricultural Chaplaincy combine and we work together, especially on Show Days. The last being the Westmorland Show. For me, a day spent being present for farmers and their families, networking with other agencies and celebrating the best of the County (and beyond). This year we were asked to provide a chaplain to say grace at the Chairman's Reception. It might not sound much but it's a great affirmation and adds legitimacy to our role. Great too that I got a free lunch and opportunity to sit on a table with some wonderful people receiving their long service awards (25 years as a vet, 52 years as an agricultural engineer, 55 years as a cattle drover). Truly humbling to meet such people, hear of their commitment and to be able to recognise their contributions.

And the answer to the question of what do you do while you are standing? For me it's to always be observant – of the people nearby, of the livestock (they can be quite big and you don't want to be in the wrong place) and most importantly of God. I find it a really rich time to pray, for those I'm observing and that God will direct me to the right sale ring or pen for that deep, privileged conversation and that I may have the right words to say. I find that there is only one chance so I have to listen hard and speak wisely. And the one who goes away from the Mart blessed – I hope the farmers but I know it's always me.

This piece featured in the Chaplaincy News from the Methodist Church in October 2023. The newsletter can be accessed here:

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