Chaplain to the Stores

Claire Bowman reports on a talk on ‘retail chaplaincy’ in Birmingham:

At the most recent meeting of Churches Together in Birmingham City Centre, Elaine Hutchinson (pictured) delivered a very interesting talk on her retail chaplaincy work. Elaine is part of the team of ministers at the church in Carrs Lane and Retail Chaplain to Birmingham city centre.

She started by asking how much retailers pay in rent each year for premises in the Bullring Shopping Centre … we couldn’t guess – £70.000. The next question was “How much did UK retail sales amount to in 2018?” – £366 billion!!  Then “How many people visited the Frankfurt Christmas Market in 2018?” A staggering 5.5 million people!!!!!

Elaine explained that retail chaplaincy began over 10 years ago as a response by church leaders to the building of the new Bullring Shopping Centre. Elaine currently leads a team of 8 volunteer chaplains. In addition to visiting The Bullring Shopping Centre and the markets in Digbeth, Grand Central Station, The Great western Arcade, and Symphony Hall they serve the Frankfurt Christmas market for 7 weeks in the run up to Christmas.

They visit shop workers who are inside all day in a ‘not-faith-based’ environment and are often alone and isolated. Challenges include working in a busy, often crowded environment where it is difficult to hold significant conversations and often having to explain what a chaplain is. Elaine often calls herself a Pastoral Care worker. The right sort of person is required for this kind of volunteering- someone who can truly commit themselves to showing up regularly and building trusting relationships as part of a team. Elaine quoted Matthew 9 v35 to 39 “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. . .”  She finished with a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“The first service that one owes to others consists in listening to them. Just as the love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them
It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work we do for our Brother (and Sister) when we learn to listen to them.

Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he/she who can no longer listen to his brother (or sister) will soon be no longer listening to God either.”

During Questions and Answers Elaine spoke of the difficulties in the Bullring markets where footfall is greatly reduced in recent years and the city council have refrained from investment preferring to redevelop the area. This brings special challenges for the chaplains, supporting the struggling traders who remain.

If anyone you know would like to volunteer as a retail chaplain they can contact Elaine on 0121 643 6151 mobile 07595 116958 Email: