A joint chaplaincy to love, to serve, to heal

/files/images/case_studies/greenwich peninsula.jpgWhat was the context?

In 1996, we received confirmation that the Millennium Dome would be coming to the Greenwich Peninsula; in 1999, North Greenwich tube station opened; in 2000, the Millennium Exhibition opened in the Millennium Dome, and the first residents moved into the Greenwich Millennium Village, at the southern end of the Peninsula; and in 2002 a consortium, Meridian Delta Ltd (MDL) (now Greenwich Peninsula Regeneration Ltd: GPRL), made up of LendLease, Quintain, and Anschutz Entertainment Group, won the masterplan competition for the whole of the Peninsula north of the Greenwich Millennium Village. Thus began the transformation of a poisoned wasteland into a new community of thirty thousand residents, twenty thousand daily visitors, twenty thousand people working in office blocks, the O2, and retail outlets, and the students and staff of Ravensbourne College.

How was the need for the project manifest?

No land was reserved for religious buildings in the Greenwich Millennium Village, and when the masterplan was announced there was not a square inch on it for religious use. The faith communities either had to resign themselves to a vast new community without visible religious activity, or they would have to work to make something happen.   

What type of action was taken?

In March 2003 Susie Wilson, of LendLease, and Malcolm Torry, Team Rector in the Church of England Parish of East Greenwich, convened a meeting at which MDL, Greenwich Borough Council, and the faith communities of the borough were represented. The faith communities offered to serve the religious needs of the diverse new community by establishing a multi faith team of workplace chaplains, and MDL and the Borough Council offered to provide a large permanent building for the faith communities to use together. This offer was subsequently enshrined in the Section 106 agreement attached to MDL’s planning agreement, along with provision for a temporary building if the permanent building was to be delayed.

In 2004, the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy was formed as a charitable trust; in 2005 the first team of chaplains set to work on the O2 construction site; in 2007, when The O2 opened, chaplains started work in its restaurants, cafes and bars; and chaplains now work in The O2, construction sites, ASDA, the borough’s police stations, and Ravensbourne College (the media, design and communication higher education college next to The O2). In 2010 a temporary Prayer Space opened, open for three hours a day, staffed by volunteer welcomers, and used by a variety of faith communities for their own religious activities.

A high point was the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. The Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy provided several Olympic chaplains (and their co-ordinator), and, because The O2 was the venue for many of the Olympic events, a large team of temporary welcomers was recruited and trained so that the chaplaincy could keep the Prayer Space open throughout every day of the Games.

The purpose

In this case, multi faith action was addressing neither the symptoms nor the causes of something that needed to be put right. Rather, the workplace chaplains’ team and the management and staffing of the Prayer Space are contributions to community-building and to meeting the religious and other needs of the visitors, workers and residents of the Peninsula.

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As stated in the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy’s trust deed: to serve the religious and other needs of the visitors, workers and residents of the Greenwich Peninsula and its neighbourhood.

We do not attempt to measure success. What we attempt to do is to be true to the requirements of the trust deed. If there is a criterion for success, then it is that we should be able to look back and be sure that we have not missed any opportunities.

We have a multi faith team of chaplains serving in a variety of workplaces; a Prayer Space open to individuals for three hours every day and staffed by volunteer welcomers; and a variety of local faith communities (Muslim, Baha’i, and three Christian denominations) using the Prayer Space for their own activities.


We have been recruiting, training and supervising workplace chaplains for nearly ten years, and volunteer Prayer Space welcomers for three years, and now that the project is no longer innovatory it is becoming more difficult to recruit new volunteers to replace those who move out of the area or leave the chaplaincy for other reasons.

The Co-ordinating Chaplain, Malcolm Torry, is on the staff of the local parish, and also has a variety of other responsibilities. He therefore has less time for the chaplaincy than would be ideal.

The faith communities that use the Prayer Space provide the running costs of the Prayer Space and the chaplaincy, but there is no money for a salary for a co-ordinator or for an administrator. We have not found the support of multi faith workplace chaplaincy amongst the grant-making criteria of any grant-making trust.

Critical factors affecting the outcomes

Commitment is key: committed volunteer chaplains and welcomers; a committed board of trustees; and the parish’s and diocesan authorities’ understanding that much of the parish’s pastoral care on the Greenwich Peninsula has to be undertaken in the context of the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy, and that that means a Church of England post-holder giving much of his time to a multi faith project.

Collaboration features strongly.  Amongst the trustees are Methodist, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Free Church, and Church of England clergy and laity. Christians of a variety of denominations work together in the chaplains’ and welcomers’ teams. Midday Christian prayer every weekday is the responsibility of two denominations working together.  The Church of England, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church are all working together in the Greenwich Millennium Village.  There is strong involvement of lay people. One of the trustees is a lay Christian; and some of the chaplains and most of the welcomers are members of the laity. 


The project is multi faith: in its governance, in its personnel, and in its activity. Everything that members of different faiths can do together they do do together: workplace chaplaincy (most of the workplace pairs and teams contain chaplains of different faiths), Prayer Place staffing, training, events, etc.  It is only prayer, worship, and other activity specific to the different faiths, that are undertaken separately.

Many of the faith communities of the borough are active partners – and it is from them that the chaplaincy recruits chaplains and welcomers. GPRL and the managements of the workplaces that chaplains visit are supportive; and the borough council is supportive, too.

The working and residential communities of the Peninsula are aware of and appreciative of the chaplains’ visits and of the availability of the Prayer Space.

The trustees, chaplains and welcomers do not view the people and institutions to which the chaplaincy relates as clients or service users. We are together building community on the Greenwich Peninsula; chaplains are guests in workplace communities; those who use the Prayer Space are members of the community participating in the activity facilitated by the chaplaincy; and the individual faith communities that use the Prayer Space are partners with the chaplaincy in creating the religious activity necessary to the creation of the Peninsula community.

Emerging lessons

In relation to leadership it is essential to separate governance and activity. The trustees govern, and the chaplains and welcomers do the work.

Collaboration and partnership are essential but also clarity is required as to what is done together and what is done separately. Each type of activity needs to be carefully allocated to the ‘separately’ or ‘together’ category, with no activity left uncategorised.

Local action can best be supported by the provision of the necessary infrastructure: in the case of the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy, by the developer and the borough council providing a building; and by such regional bodies as dioceses supporting local initiative and local understandings of the situation and the strategy required.

It is important that good practice norms are established through consultation amongst practitioners and then by minuted decisions of the governing body.  Multi faith activity requires that only what all can agree to do together should be done together, and that everything else should be done separately by the different faith communities.

Lessons for church / faith leaders are that local understandings of the context and of the strategy required should be encouraged, facilitated, and then supported; and that posts should be created or adapted to enable the creation and support of teams of volunteers, as this is the best way to generate the maximum amount of activity.

A lesson for local churches / faith groups is that working together on a project is the best way to get to know one another. (One of the reasons for Greenwich borough’s faith communities responding in such a co-ordinated way to the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich is the way in which members of those faith communities have worked together in the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy.)

In the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy, there is no distinction between clergy and laity. The same criteria are employed whoever is being selected as a volunteer chaplain or welcomer; the training is the same; and the supervision is the same. A clergy / laity distinction is only relevant in relation to the activity of a particular faith community.

What characterises this project as a faith-linked one and distinguishes it from other community projects?

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One of the stated aims of the project is the meeting of religious need. The chaplains and welcomers therefore offer pastoral care, and are encouraged to employ the resources of their faiths to serve the needs of the people amongst whom they are working.  The Prayer Space enables the different faith communities that use it to undertake specifically religious activity. A criterion for selection as a volunteer chaplain or welcomer is active membership of a local faith community. 




The role of the church leaders

Regional religious leaders (such as bishops and archdeacons) have been very supportive of the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy, recognising that it is an appropriately unique response to the particular needs of a unique context. They have encouraged local members of faith communities to be trustees, chaplains, and welcomers; and the Co-ordinating Chaplain has experienced his diocesan authorities’ understanding and encouragement in his quite time-consuming work for the chaplaincy.

The Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy is an example of decisions and activity at appropriate organisational levels, and of the exercise of entirely local initiative where that is required.

If the Church locally is to gather for worship, and is to have a visible presence in the cause of ministry and mission, then the only way to do that on the Greenwich Peninsula is to work with other faiths, because there will never be land available for individual faith communities to create their own buildings. Positively: we are enjoined to gather for the Eucharist, to pray together, and to proclaim the gospel. If we can do that most effectively by working in the context of an organisation like the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy, then that is what we need to do. We are enjoined to love, to serve, to heal ... and if doing those things along with people of other faiths is the most effective way of doing them, then that is what we should do.


Further details from: The Rev’d Malcolm Torry, Co-ordinating Chaplain, Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy

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