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United Kingdom, 72, Retired, former University Catholic Chaplain Oxford and London, HIV Research Middlesex hospital London, HIV Corporate Strategist CAFOD

The Joys and Hopes, Griefs and Anxieties of Employment as a Lay Chaplain

In 1978 I joined the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy as lay chaplain, and from 1984 when I took up an HIV-research post in London, worked in a London chaplaincy team. 

In my early years most chaplains were priests. Gradually more chaplaincies employed lay people. We formed a lay chaplains support group and shaped collaborative ministry models, addressed contractual, formation and financial challenges, all supported by priest-colleagues.

 We reported our experiences at national conferences. In 1986 I became the first non-priest chair of the national conference, where our model was gaining increasing support. By 1988 there were 12 lay chaplains (not religious sisters) and 18 religious sisters in a total of 100 Catholic chaplains.

After four years of combining laboratory research and work as chaplain I needed to choose between them. My diocese agreed to employ me full-time. I resigned my research post. 

A month later a priest colleague
informed the bishop he would not accept lay chaplains when he led the team. My contract was reduced to one year. I protested, the chaplains conference protested to the bishop, who sympathised in private but supported his priest in public. 

I lost my post and with it my home and financial support. I was devastated, felt crushed by the institutional church. I survived through support from friends and (eventually) counselling. 

I will not leave because, despite repeated battering by clericalism, it is MY church too and here I stay to claim my