History of the chaplaincy
In 2003 patients at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital asked to meet with the hospital chaplain who was responsible for visiting the HIV directorate – not in the hospital but in the community where they socialised. By 2003 people living with HIV generally no longer spent long periods in hospital but lived at home in the community but instead would come to the hospital for regular out-patient appointments.
The then chaplain, Steve Penrose, shared this with his Methodist Church colleagues, both locally and nationally, and by September 2003 the Methodist Church made it possible for Steve to spend more time listening to people living with HIV in a more social setting. Most of the people he met with were gay men, so he met with them in the West End gay bars or in coffee shops. All the original clients were patients from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, but as time went on and news got around within the HIV community about what he was doing so more people asked to meet with him.
By 2007 Steve was meeting with more than 150 people living with the virus. Early in 2007 Philip Nelson became a volunteer in the chaplaincy and worked alongside Steve. When Steve announced that he was going to retire in August 2008 (at a time when the chaplaincy was funded wholly by the Methodist Church) he and his line manager, Stuart Jordan, called together representatives of all London’s major church communities to explore whether there was a possibility of employing a full-time chaplain. The result of these discussions was that there were commitments from the Methodist Church, Church of England, United Reformed Church and Roman Catholic Church to fund a full-time chaplaincy. Adverts were circulated for a full-time chaplain, interviews were arranged and Philip was appointed in 2008 to succeed Steve as London’s HIV Chaplain, full-time.
The churches initially based the chaplaincy with the London Ecumenical Aids Trust (LEAT), which came under the wing of the London Churches Group, but following a change of CEO at LEAT the HIV Chaplaincy became a separate entity and in April 2012 became a registered charity. In October 2012 the charity was registered as a company limited by guarantee.
By 2015 Philip, the current chaplain, had grown the client base to more than 360 clients.
London HIV Chaplaincy is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. The registered charity number is 1149729 and Companies House number is 8039638
The following is what appears on the charity register as the Chaplaincy’s charitable objectives:
“To meetthe needs of people living with HIV/AIDS by providing a counselling service which acknowledges and supports their religious faith and also (by articulating their experiences to the wider community) equips others to respond to their needs more sensitively and effectively”
The Board of Trustees is responsible for the management and strategic direction of the charity which includes adequate funding.
The board meets at least four times a year. All Trustees are non-executive and none of them receives remuneration from the charity.
Who is the chaplain?
Living with HIV the chaplain, a former clergyman who has 15+ years experience in pastoral care, has shared the journey and the consequences incurred by the clients, not only on a personal level and through his work. He has a wealth of experience gained by exploring the strengths and weaknesses of a wide range of religious communities in connection to their treatment of and welcome offered to the marginalised, the vulnerable, and those looking for meaning.
Our chaplain has used his talents and energy to highlight the very practical issues and problems experienced by people living with HIV in their everyday lives. No issue or problem is too small. Whilst he has (at times) had a rough reception because faith communities do not always appreciate being reminded that they may have misjudged how to treat people with HIV, he remains totally committed to reminding everyone that HIV remains a huge problem at a time when new diagnoses are still on the rise.
When asked why he continues to work in such a difficult and taxing area he replied “The clients I have the privilege to work with are some of the most real, interesting and determined people I have ever met. They teach me something new every day, and frankly they deserve better from everyone (and especially faith communities) than they currently get”.