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November 2022
Issue No. 311

Who Do You Think You Are? (Social Chaplain Special)

  (© 教聲/ ECHO)

When one of our clergy get attached to a school or a hospital, they become a chaplain. Why is it then that social services, a field in which our church is heavily involved in, has never had their own version of a ‘social chaplain’? The HKSKH Lady MacLehose Centre has recently created the post of ‘Mission and pastoral officer’, which seems to be a step towards establishing a chaplaincy. 

The Birth of Social Chaplaincy

Francis Lung replaced the Archbishop Andrew Chan as the Lady MacLehose Centre’s chairman last year. He has been involved in the Centre’s management for a while now, and is no stranger to its mission, but he still made it his goal as chairman to better understand his colleagues, the Centre, and the whole community who benefits from the Centre’s services. 

‘As a Christian social services organisation, how do we differentiate ourselves from those that don’t have a religious background? The answer lies in Christ’s love, and his teachings about serving others,’ Francis says. ‘If we hadn’t received this mission from God and his reasons for helping others, then what we do would be identical to all other organisations. And so we must make manifest God’s love, just as the Bible tells us to bear witness to God’s love in front of others, and become the salt and light for others’ sake. With God’s love as our starting point then, how should we proceed as the Lady MacLehose Centre?’

With the COVID pandemic raging on in the last few years, Francis witnessed the seldom shown difficulties that his colleagues faced: the infected, the quarantined, and those who decided to emigrate. He saw first hand how these social workers, these people who are supposed to be on the front lines of taking care of people, how they themselves are overburdened with the demands from the government and the Social Welfare Department, and become victims of neglect. 

Francis understood that all his colleagues are dedicated to the cause of helping those in need, and that the selfless behaviour of overworking for such a good cause is something truly admirable. And so he thought of ways for his colleagues to not only love others, but they themselves as well – a way to let them monitor their own needs, and make manifest God’s love within the Centre itself. From this idea came the seeds of a social chaplaincy.

Such a post is not set up for missionary work, but rather for looking after the spiritual needs of social workers, be they Christian or not. Francis approached the Archbishop to discuss the possibility of setting up such a chaplaincy, and the Diocese of Western Kowloon gladly supported the idea. 

The Worst of Times, the Best of Times

The Anglican perspective on what makes an ‘Anglican’ isn’t something confined to those who got baptised and confirmed in our churches. Those who study or teach at our schools, those who work or participate in our social service organisations – all of them are ‘Anglicans’. The last few years saw us Anglicans helping each other out during these trying times.

One of the ways that the Diocese of Western Kowloon is showing their support for this ‘Social Chaplaincy’ is arranging for Revd Joseph Chow (who also sits on the Management Committee of Lady MacLehose Centre) to provide guidance in the mission and spiritual nurture ministries. They have also organised the ‘Committee for the Promotion of Social Chaplaincy Ministry’ with the Centre’s Management Committee, to oversee the ministry’s strategy and the selection of candidates for a ‘Mission and pastoral officer’.

Joseph agrees wholeheartedly with Francis’ idea of a social chaplaincy. ‘It’s a very Anglican idea.’ He thinks that this is exactly what an Anglican social services organisation needs: someone who provides pastoral care with the perspective of Christian faith and Anglican ethos. Joseph finds the current time the best opportunity in bringing such ideas to life. 

‘We need to take care of our colleagues. With so many social services units these days, our colleagues have been shouldering immense workloads and pressure in the last few years, and they run the risk of being neglected. I believe that when they become recipients of love, they will in turn multiply it and give it to all those who benefit from our Centre’s services.’

The birth of this idea also coincided with Wong Chi-Kin’s graduation from the Divinity School of Chung Chi College. Wong was looking for a serving post in the church, and Joseph was originally planning to invite him to the Church of the Epiphany to assist in its mission ministry. By chance, the topic of Lady MacLehose Centre surfaced during a conversation between Wong and Joseph, and Joseph thought Wong was more suited to this post, and so invited him to meet up with Francis.

Wong recalled with amusement how the interview was done over a telephone, with him sitting next to Joseph as he called Francis. At that time, he had no idea who Francis was. It was only later when he sent his CV and had a formal interview that he knew of the details of the social chaplaincy idea, and he was hooked on the spot.

There’s no missionary work for a social chaplain?! 

Wong came to an established social services organisation without any professional qualifications on social work, and was tasked with providing pastoral care to a group of professional social workers. They gave this social chaplaincy post the title of ‘Mission and pastoral officer’.

Wong confessed that even though the idea behind this post is a great one, and that there’s ample support for it, the actual implementation isn’t as easy as imagined. ‘We cannot just change a social service organisation into a church. When the Centre selected its employees, they were chosen for their experience, education, and talents, not for their being a Christian or not. Our colleagues here are also busy enough with their work, and piling faith on top of that would constitute another stressor at the workplace, or worse still, mistakenly make them feel guilty about not being good enough.’ Thus, the chief responsibility of a social chaplain is to look after the psychological needs of social workers.

The idea that social workers themselves would need someone to look after their psychological needs is a rather foreign idea to social service organisations. Wong understood that his colleagues would only realise its benefits if they truly feel cared for. And so, matters such as how to open a conversation, building up trust, and making his colleagues feel cared for are things that are most important to Wong. Such things cannot rushed, and their effects may not be immediately apparent, and so Wong could only keep going at it step by step.

Wong admits how many of his colleagues held misconceptions about his job, and some were even rejecting him out of fear. Fortunately, they slowly realised that this social chaplain only wanted to have a friendly chat about their daily lives and their recent goings-on. Slowly but surely their initial mistrust faded, replaced with sincerity. After three months, the colleagues at the Centre are now used to Wong’s chaplaincy. 

One area of work as a social chaplain is to organise a staff fellowship, because it’s not just the one-to-one relationship that a chaplains needs to build up with the people he’s looking after, but also the relationship between the group members. Wong is glad to report that the staff fellowship is set on a promising course. The themes of the first four meetings convinced him that the Holy Spirit is working amongst them, and God is leading them in their fellowship.

The fellowship first met on 29th July, with the theme ‘Yearning for a home’. The idea came about as some of the colleagues were talking the emigration wave, and their own sense of belonging to the Centre, and so Wong suggested to the committee for the promotion of social chaplaincy to invite Francis as a guest for the first fellowship meeting. ‘We started with this idea of yearning for a home, and that led naturally to the themes for the next three meetings: “looking back”, “packing up”, and “going forward”. These four themes combined makes “belonging”. We invited people from different departments and different ranks within the Centre to expand on the themes and share their thoughts as our guest. I hope that this bottom-up approach would build up the sympathy between my colleagues,’ Wong said.

Due to the pandemic and how different service units are distributed to different districts, all these fellowship meetings were held in a hybrid manner with both offline and online participation.

Revd Lau: I redicovered my true self here 

Revd Lau Tsz Yui is a member of the Centre’s Management Committee, and is both a planner and executor when it comes to the social chaplaincy. As he participated in both the fellowship and one-to-one chats, he was glad to find through the colleagues a real example of bringing the faith to the crowd. In them, he saw the fellowship slowly bringing the participants together, as they proactively shared their own stories.

The Revd Lau also said that he is rediscovering himself through all this, and it made him rethink about his own ministry. ‘This is a space where I don’t need to examine every single person’s needs as a clergy. They share their experiences with me, and their stories helped me. We became companions in the same journey.’ Revd Lau appreciates this new idea of a social chaplaincy.

Francis hopes that this initiative could first reach 5% of all the colleagues at the Centre, and make them feel loved and cared for. With them becoming willing to open up, they will then in turn influence others, and slowly bring about a Centre-wide change.

The Bait of Staff Fellowship

Tilly Leung is a congregant at All Saints’ Cathedral, and is also a staff member at the Lady MacLehose Centre. She now assists in promoting the social chaplaincy as a front line worker. Tilly recalls how the second fellowship meeting had the theme of ‘Looking back’: they still haven’t found a colleague willing to share their thought for the session, and so she volunteered to be the bait, and invited two of her closer colleagues to give a ‘sharing from three ladies’.

Whilst these two were no Christians, they respected the faith, and Tilly hoped that through their sharing of their own experiences in providing social services and those who receive such services, they would inadvertently talk about chance encounters with God’s grace. More importantly, she hoped that people would understand you don’t need to be a Christian to be part of this fellowship. The feedback afterwards was positive, and some even thought this ‘talk show’ format for a fellowship is rather fun, with its informal, chatty atmosphere. Tilly found being the ‘bait’ that time was worth it.

  (© 教聲/ ECHO)

  (© 教聲/ ECHO)


<The above article was published in "Echo" Issue No. 311. Please click here>


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