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From psychologist to chaplain

A personal journey of integrating faith with psychology and the role of BACIP in that journey.

This is the story of moving from being an occupational psychologist who happened to be a committed Christian, to being a workplace chaplain, who also happens to be a psychologist.  It is a story of changing identities and changing roles, but also an account of moving from a twin track life to integrating to a single track life, using the gifts and experience that God has given and integrating faith with occupational psychology. I became a Christian in the same year that I got my PhD, so took on the identity of occupational psychologist at the same time as turning to Christ.  I joined the Medical Research Council doing research into stress at work at the same time that I joined the Church of England. And the two themes, stress or wellbeing in the workplace and my faith, have been the mainstays of my life ever since.  I happily embraced both roles but they were quite separate in my life at that time.  I attended church, became part of a parish congregation, volunteered to run the bookstall, but then the vicar discovered I was a psychologist and asked me to lead a house group, even though at that point in my career I had no idea how to do that!   I then came to the notice of the diocese and was asked to take part in the national selection process for would-be vicars.  The two sides of my life were starting to overlap but they stayed firmly separate in my mind.  My work life moved from research to a university post working on management development programmes, so I moved more into the practical side of occupational psychology, eventually leaving the academic world to set up my own consultancy. My involvement in the church also grew, and then two key things happened. Firstly I discovered BACIP.  I don’t know how I had not come across it before but I well remember the day when, idly flicking through the Psychologist, I saw an advert for the annual BACIP conference.  An Association of Christians in Psychology, how wonderful, I thought, and immediately applied.  I was bowled over by the experience of being at a conference bounded by worship where everyone was a Christian psychologist, never had I felt so at home!

The second thing that happened was that I entered the world of chaplaincy. I was testing a call to ordination and as part of that was asked to become a chaplaincy volunteer at my local hospital.  That opened my eyes to chaplaincy, taking the love of God and church out into the world. Ordination was not to be but thanks to testing that call, I gained experience of chaplaincy which stood me in good stead for the next development. And that came when a good friend informed me that she had seen a job that had my name on it. It was for the team leader of the chaplaincy team at Birmingham Airport.  My friend proceeded to go through the requirements and tell me that I could easily do it.  My initial incredulity was tempered by great respect for this Christian friend and so I did not dismiss it out of hand.  She was right, I could do it, but then did I want to do it.  I was considering retirement and a quieter life.  But I heard the knock of God on my door, so applied, and was very daunted when offered the post.  I asked for time to think and pray.  And guess what, the next day was the BACIP conference on ‘Integrating Faith with Psychology’. What wonderful timing!  By the end of the conference I had decided to take it. I have now been in the post 18 months and feel less like a rabbit in the headlights but am still very much learning the ropes.  My experience of consulting in large organisations and offering executive coaching has been invaluable.  I offer a scheme of ‘come and have a chat with the chaplain’ and HR people have been only too happy to refer people to me.  There is also a wellbeing agenda which I am worming my way into, so at the end of my career, I finally combine in one role being a Christian in the world of work as a workplace chaplain.  I am at last on one track.  I love every minute of being where God wants me to be and for which He has prepared me. I am able to use my knowledge of organisations, my love of people and my skills in one-to-one work, to do what we are commanded to do, love your neighbour.  I tend to focus on the workforce, the thousands of people who make up the community of the airport, with all the issues they bring, the joys and sorrows.  And then of course there are the passengers, the holiday makers, the family reunions, those travelling with a heavy heart to a funeral and my favourite of all, the hen and stag parties.  It gives me great pleasure to go up to them and in effect give them a chaplain's blessing, not just on their riotous weekend but their married life ahead.  The brides-to-be tend to receive me well, the stags are somewhat bemused!  And I am not just a workplace chaplain, I am the team leader, so I have to put into practice everything I have taught and written about teams! As I write this I look ahead to a team meeting tomorrow, of a disparate group of Christian chaplains from different traditions, joined by the wish to take the love of God into the busy environment of the airport.  Now I have to put it all into practice, the teachings of Christ and all that I have taught over the years. It really is integrating faith with psychology and I could not be happier.

Tanya Arroba

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