Portraits of chaplains in a pandemic

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As lockdowns changed life across the country, London-based portrait and celebrity photographer Louise Haywood-Schiefer was brought to the attention of her church's community activities: Christ Church, Gypsy Hill.

Conversations with the pastor, Pastor Jonathan Croucher, led them to explore the world of pastoral care and the functions of pastoral care workers. "I realized that there are chaplains everywhere that I hadn't known before," she says.

Inspired to pick up her camera, she toured the city, met and photographed chaplains at their workplaces, and spoke to them about their work before and during the pandemic.

The result is “Keeping the Faith: London Chaplains in the Time of Covid”: a project that she describes as a snapshot in which “a big city has just come to a standstill”.

Starting the project during the second lockdown just before Christmas and focusing on Christian chaplains became an issue. Her pastoral awareness had previously been minimal.

Although her love for church buildings was an incentive – "I'm not religious in any way, but I love churches. I love the spaces. I love the architecture. There is something about the places that I find very peaceful" – she led the project beyond the church walls.

Surprised by how many places chaplains could be found across London, their journey took them to a boat, a tube station, a prison and a football club, as well as the heart of politics in Westminster.

"I have always been fascinated by the small pastoral care rooms at airports. I would be curious: Who needs a chaplain at the airport? What is it about? And then I got in touch with one of them and found out."

PHOTOGRAPHY Chaplains have given her insight into the role they play with their "passing gatherings of people" and the challenges they face. "They are the people people turn to in times of crisis," she says. “In many ways, that role may be more important than ever. But they're human too, aren't they? And I was just interested in how they dealt with it. "

She was also surprised that “pastoral care is for everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs. I hadn't noticed that. "She continues," I think I always imagined that as a religious person you would find solace in your local pastor.

“But maybe it's important to have someone there at this time – and you may not even know you need them. Only the hearing ear. Everyone wants to be heard. "

She found the motifs of the chaplains she spoke to inspiring. “They just want to do good. They really want to help, and I think that's a really nice thing. And I suppose that's what we could probably all learn from them, just to listen to each other more and just want to help each other. "

The conversations seem to have benefited both the subjects and Ms. Haywood-Schiefer. "Quite a few of them emailed me afterwards saying they really enjoyed it and found it rather cathartic to think about the past year."

Creating the project was “kind of a savior,” she says, and she expects it to move on as she discovers more places chaplains work even after she's back in business: “I feel like it's just the surface to have scratched. ”

The portraits:

Father John Vincent CF (see main picture), Chaplain of the Household Department of the Royal Military Chapel (The Guards & # 39; Chapel)

Soldiers are trained to deal with what lies ahead. So fighting Covid is no different from fighting a physical enemy in terms of approach. However, this usually means that you will be used for operations and that you will be on the road for six months at a time.

Isolation from your family is easy when you are somewhere in a desert 2,000 miles away. However, when your family is only a short trip away, some people have found this to be a challenge.

When you find yourself in a war zone, you face all sorts of restrictions on your movements and daily routines in order not to be able to see or even talk to loved ones for weeks.

You deal with this by asking yourself, "What can I achieve today?" instead of thinking about how many more months there might be.

That was my mental approach to it and I tried to enjoy and appreciate the things that I can do.

The Reverend Christiana Asinugo, chaplain of Westfield Stratford City

Louise Haywood slateLouise Haywood slate

Life in Westfield is usually busy. You go in here and get resuscitated even if you feel bad about all of the people and all of the staff that are happy to see you – it's life giving to me.

I am sure that many employees feel the same way because they spend a lot of time here, make friends and be family here. In order for the coronavirus to take it away from them at lightning speed, it must have been very difficult for them. I got in touch with some of the department heads and one of them told me because of the way that staff were told that if they find a new job elsewhere, they should just take it. There was a complete loss of hope and uncertainty about what the future would bring.

I was there in a few days to speak to the security guards and others who are nearby and when I came across the emptiness and tranquility of the mall I found it heartbreaking.

I look forward to things getting as normal as possible.

Rev. Tricia Hillas, Speaker, House of Commons

Louise Haywood slateLouise Haywood slateI am aware of the weight of the responsibility of MEPs, their staff and everyone who supports the work of Parliament. So I'm trying to create a sanctuary where nothing will be asked of them. It's just a space that you can use however you want.

During the pandemic, we were very aware of the pastoral needs of colleagues still working on the property and those who do not. One of the key concepts was to create a whole range of counseling, wellbeing and mental health based offerings and I was happy to be working closely with other teams to make this happen.

I've only been in this role since February 2020 and had to work creatively and with more intent during the pandemic because many people don't know me yet. I think there would have been benefits to having been here for a while. On the other hand, the new girl makes it easier to say "hello" and introduce myself.

As the speaker's chaplain, I lead parliamentary prayers as part of the speaker's procession every day the House of Commons sits. The ceremonial aspects have remained intact, but the way we do them has changed, as has the rest of life with social distancing.

The Reverend William Sharpe, Senior Chaplain and Assistant Team Leader at the NHS Foundation Trust of Guy and St. Thomas
Louise Haywood slateLouise Haywood slate

There was immense pressure on the NHS staff – not just the doctors and nurses, but also the porters, housekeeping and administrative staff -. Every single person has played an enormous role in keeping this country moving.

Some have been overhauled, others have experienced personal bereavement – everyone has a different story – and we provide a safe haven for them to talk about personal problems when they are in trouble. We are there to listen actively, to help you solve mental health problems and to refer you to other departments if this is relevant to your well-being.

In this pandemic, we have all had challenges and difficulties, but when you are looking at a disaster, you have to try to find some calm and hope.

When I interact with a co-worker or colleague and am able to bring hope into their life or change their circumstances, I find it so fulfilling and rewarding. I think it's an honor and that's why I have the best job in the world.

Revd Peterson Feital, creative industries missionary and founder of Haven, and Revd Ric Stott, Methodist minister, artist and curator of the Wilderness Project exhibition

Louise Haywood slateLouise Haywood slate

We have always been on the front lines when it comes to people suffering from severe anxiety, but when Covid hit, the number of calls quadrupled. We had a number of calls from creatives who had lost their jobs, some of whom had become homeless – there was complete havoc in the creative sector.

Using art to explore experiences with the pandemic is powerful because art can hold all of these difficult feelings without giving an answer, but just holding them is a healing experience. None of the works in the exhibition offer an easy answer. In theological studies this term can sometimes be forgotten, and it was liberating to be reminded that there is not always an answer. There is a belief in doubt.

The Reverend Jonathan Baldwin, Senior Chaplain at Gatwick Airport

Louise Haywood slateLouise Haywood slate

The airport is my life: it's my community. You build relationships, you see people regularly and for over 18 years I've been doing baptisms, weddings and unfortunately funerals here.

We have a temporary church with the exception of our "regular irregularities" which we only see two or three times a year, and currently fewer people come to the chapel for services, but the pastoral care is not gone.

I still walk around chatting to someone at all times, but our passenger numbers have dropped massively.

The wonderful thing is that the staff have a little more time, are not so rushed or under pressure, and you can chat in more detail. As with the cleaners, a boy came up to me and said, "Can I talk?" I've never met him before, but Wallop, it all came out.

Rev. Dr. Jenny Morgans, University Chaplain at King & # 39; s College London

Louise Haywood slateLouise Haywood slate

It's really hard to be a student now and nothing can get that time back for her.

Many feel very isolated and have to work at home with their parents. This is especially bad for those who don't have very good family relationships or who don't have a good internet connection or private work space.

I really miss being in attendance for students.

The Reverend Bola Adamolekun, chaplain at HM Prison Brixton

Louise Haywood slateLouise Haywood slate

How can you comfort and comfort men who have been stuck behind doors for a ridiculously long time?

I have found that the people you speak to are more open now, if you take the time, and that this conversation offers more opportunities to go deeper and become more meaningful.

It was less about just wanting an excuse to get out of the cell: it's almost like they treated it as a gift, and they've decided that if I do them, they'll deal with me too can.

You may come across some really broken and desperate cases: sometimes it's really heartbreaking. There are many people in prison for criminal reasons and there are many people in prison because society was criminal for them.

Pastor Dylis George, Northern Line chaplain on the London Underground

Louise Haywood slateLouise Haywood slate

Before the pandemic, there would be days when I would “hop on and off” as far as High Barnet to contact the staff. In the event of a death, we are called upon by the UK traffic police and must respond within 24 hours so that we can provide assistance to witnesses or those who have participated in a death.

For me our motto is "love and support". The support is for everyone, regardless of origin or belief; I never ask about religious beliefs. I just want to see that a person's mental state and well being are good and that they are not depressed or frustrated.

I found speaking very therapeutic and healing, even if I don't offer a solution. A staff member called me recently and told me exactly what he was going through and I was just listening. When he finished he started crying and thanked me for having used this to get out of him, but he didn't want to tell his mother. It was so fulfilling for me that I could be on the other end of the phone

Pastor Chris Roe, chaplain of Crystal Palace Football Club

Louise Haywood slateLouise Haywood slate

The role of a football club chaplain is not necessarily about religion: it is about being available and building relationships so that anyone who feels they have pastoral support that is out of the context of football and out of context of the club they know where to go.

On a match day, I usually came here about three hours before kick-off to make myself visible, because the more integrated I am, the more effective my role is.

Due to the restrictions that have made it possible for the football season this year, I have not been able to return to the training ground since March 2020, and in football that might as well be 50 years

Pastor Dr. Andrew Goodhead, Head of Spiritual Care at St. Christopher & # 39; s Hospice

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During the first lockdown, I visited a patient at home who had been discharged from the hospital with Covid-19. I washed my hands and put on my PPE before going to the patient who died peacefully. The patient was not really conscious. So my conversation was with the son and grandson who both wore masks. I said prayers and then pondered the great ritual on the way back that it had been.

It's much harder to connect when you're disguised and protected from one another. When I greet a patient I usually put my hand on my shoulder and when I say praises I put my hand on the head in some places or make the sign of the cross on the forehead and none of them could do that.

But that's really all ritual, and the words I say are not improved or improved by these actions at this point. So you just have to start doing things differently

Photos and captions are from "Keeping the Faith: London Chaplains in the Time of Covid" by Louise Haywood-Slate. They will be published shortly on their website: lhschiefer.com

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