Day Chaplain at Southwark Cathedral

An insight by Alison Wintgens about Pastoral Care at Southwark Cathedral

Pastoral Care at Southwark Cathedral – working as a Day Chaplain

Over the past year I have been working for a day or two each month as a Day Chaplain at our glorious cathedral.  My involvement started with a request in 2012 for additional clergy, readers or SPAs to do duties during the Olympics. With so many people passing through the London Bridge area it was expected that there would be an increase in the number of visitors to Southwark Cathedral, some of whom might be in distress or need of pastoral care.

‘The Day Chaplain represents the pastoral point of contact between the Cathedral and its visitors. The role is a vital one as it represents the day to day caring aspects of the Cathedral together with its human face’. This is the opening to the introduction of our Day Chaplains’ Handbook. Our primary role is to provide pastoral ministry to those who need or ask for it. In practice we are evident in the cathedral to welcome people and find out a bit about them, offering a chance to talk, listen or pray if they want to do this.  The visitors may come looking for support, comfort or advice in varying degrees of personal need. Many of them are tourists; some come to worship or for private prayer; some look in between appointments, treatments, or visits to others at Guy’s or London Bridge hospitals; some are rough sleepers; some are lonely; some are bereaved; some have mental health or addiction problems.

Hourly prayers are led by the Day Chaplain from one of the lecterns. We start by welcoming everyone, especially any school parties or known visitors, and reminding them that ‘the cathedral is not only an historic building but also a House of Prayer’.  There is a moment of silence when we invite those present to pray for anyone in special need who is known to them. There follows a general prayer or one suitable for a specific occasion; then The Lord’s Prayer; and some closing sentences when we invite anyone who wants to speak to us on a personal or spiritual matter to approach us. Our other formal duties include reading from the Old Testament at the Midday Eucharist, and sometimes introducing the Tuesday music recitals.

Being in the cathedral for the whole day is rather wonderful. The pace is slow and it is very much a ‘ministry of presence’ – needing to be alert and responsive to whoever presents themselves. At first I found it very daunting to wear a black cassock, but it certainly helps me to focus on what I am there for!  I find it reminiscent of my time at Samaritans (when we never knew who would be on the end of the line or coming in to the centre) woven in with the essence of SPA ministry.

Have you ever visited Southwark Cathedral? If not may I urge you to do so? It really is a glorious building and an oasis amidst the bustle of London Bridge and Borough Market. It has a fascinating timeline, with parts dating from 606 when it was a convent; 1106 as a priory; 1540 as a parish church; and in 1905 it became a cathedral. There are many points of interest to see, some very old, some very new. To name just a few you can visit the Shakespeare Memorial Window, commemorating William Shakespeare’s life in Southwark; the High Altar Screen with saints and heroes of the Southwark Cathedral story; the Tomb of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes who translated the King James Bible; and the Diamond Jubilee Window, recently installed to mark our Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. And of course there are the daily services; and the Harvard Chapel, where the founder of Harvard University was baptised in 1607, which is set aside for people to pray in silence.  You will get a warm welcome and useful information from the welcomers; entry is free and you can pick up a free leaflet or buy a guide book; and the Refectory serves delicious food and drinks.  You may even meet the cathedral cat, grandly and teasingly named Dawkins Magnificat, who turned up at the door shortly after the publication of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and has stayed ever since!

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