Calm at the centre

With Bar wellbeing firmly centre stage, Mark Hatcher meets the preachers of the Inns to examine what they can offer to barristers – of all faiths and none

‘The Bar can sometimes feel a lonely place,’ says Rachel Spearing, a criminal practitioner who has played a leading role in the Wellbeing at the Bar initiative. 

She thinks that with more people working from home, the self-employed Bar is in danger of becoming more lonely (and potentially isolated), at the same time as chambers are consolidating and getting larger and becoming less collegiate. ‘People are not looking out for each other in the way that they used to,’ Spearing believes.

The social and personal costs of high achievement as well as perceived failure are being picked up by individuals and by chambers (for whom ‘corporate reputation’ may be at stake) as well as by the Inns, the Circuits, law schools and employers with responsibilities for health and safety and the need to promote diverse working environments. All acknowledge that wellbeing at the Bar is a concept whose time has come. The development of a coherent and co-ordinated response through an online portal aimed specifically at the needs of barristers is thus opportune, and its welcome launch is due at the end of September.

Does the Church in the Inns of Court have a role to play in offering support in this context?

Owing to their centuries-old heritage, all four Inns’ chapels are Christian foundations. They are, however, open to those of all faiths and of none. The clergy see their contribution to wellbeing at the Bar as part of their wider pastoral responsibility for students and members of the Inns, as well as barristers who practise from chambers in the Inns, and their families and staff.

Sam Mercer, Head of Policy, Diversity and Equality, and CSR at the Bar Council, emphasises that the churches’ contribution to wellbeing should not be denomination-specific: ‘It should be sensitive to the interests of other faiths and to people of no faith.’

The Very Reverend Derek Watson, Preacher of Lincoln’s Inn agrees that ‘the pastoral role is not exclusively for those of Christian faith’. A large number of students of all faiths were called at Trinity Call Night this year, as one would expect. To ensure that the service held in the Chapel before the Call ceremonies contained elements from all three Abrahamic faiths, Watson consulted an imam, and others with experience of inclusive worship, and incorporated material from the Koran.

Both Watson and Bishop Michael Doe, the Preacher of Gray’s Inn, stress the importance of getting to know students – and other members of the Inn – over dinner or lunch, or in the bar. They see this as an important way of connecting with the people for whom they have a responsibility who may wish to consult them at a later stage, whether as students, barristers or Benchers.

Bishop Doe sees a possible tension between his roles as preacher and pastor. The good news from the pulpit must be that we are loved and forgiven more that we can ever imagine – and what better foundation for a sense of wellbeing? But it must also include challenge about how we live, our values, and here in particular how law and the exercise of law needs to change. He wryly sums it up as ‘comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable’.

How we manage our lives both as individuals and as members of communities, and take responsibility for ourselves and our lifestyles, are natural concerns of all faith leaders, the Reverend Robin Griffith-Jones thinks. As Master of the Temple, who shares responsibility with the Reader of the Temple for the spiritual and pastoral needs of Inner and Middle Temple, he observes: ‘There are members of the Bar and of the judiciary for whom the Church is a source of great comfort and stability. Many have been used to such a collegiate chapel ever since university. Increasingly, we hope, other members of the Inns will discover its remarkable mix of liturgies, music, exhibitions and trenchantly forward-looking debates on law, religion and public life – and, among them all, its ancient and beautiful calm. All this is in the context of an ongoing pastoral care for the Inns’ and chambers’ members and staff which is our highest priority.’

Griffith-Jones continues: ‘Judges and barristers take on heavy responsibilities on behalf of everyone in this country with harrowing cases in family and crime, immensely complicated material in commercial matters and with outcomes in public law that will have a wide and deep effect. And there is simply the relentless – and in some areas nerve-wracking – need to make a living. Historic houses of faith, by their very presence, already remind us that others have been before us and others will come after us, all facing and overcoming just such difficulties in their own time. We are here to provide comfort and assurance, to help build strength and resilience. It is a tremendous privilege to be able to offer such a service to the Inns.’

The Master of the Temple sees connection with members of the Inns being forged over time in the course of the regular as well as occasional, more personal services, and then again in socio-legal events hosted by the Temple Church, such as the 2008 symposium on Islam and English Law. Commenting on those big ‘set piece’ occasions and on the subsequent, less visible encounters with individuals, he adds: ‘I hope we can continue to sustain genuinely thoughtful conversations on some increasingly important and divisive questions.’

All this work ‘shows our commitment to the profession, its ideals and aspirations, as well as recognising the pressures it is up against.’ But he is not confident yet that the Temple Church is offering or using its time as effectively as it could so that ‘you and I can be what we are called to be – warm-hearted servants who hope we can be, and will be, of increasing value’. He also recognises that the Church of England’s demographic is ageing and that it is becoming more difficult to attract younger people.

The Preacher of Gray’s Inn, Bishop Doe, agrees that the more established forms of liturgy used in the Inns’ chapels may connect less and less with both the growth of more charismatic worship and young people growing up without experience of practising faith. However, he says that there is no evidence that ‘spirituality’ as such is in decline: questions about life and death, about personal and professional purpose – ‘Why did I want to become a lawyer?’ – haven’t gone away.

He also says that the Church’s occasional services around life events of baptism, confirmation, marriage and death invariably provide ways in to discussion about pastoral issues. ‘I see wedding couples between four to six times before their marriage. Usually the content is about the practical aspects of the service but often all the other stuff comes up. Quite a lot of the time these days you find yourself dealing with family disruption and you realise that all is not totally harmonious.’

What inhibits people from seeing the Inns’ churches as a source of support for wellbeing?

Griffith-Jones says there may be concern that ‘we’re quickly going to talk about God or prayer, or say, ‘Come to church on Sunday.’ We ourselves believe we can understand ourselves better by understanding our relationship with God; and you can imagine people saying to themselves, ‘Are you covertly hoping I’m going to become a Christian?’ He adds: ‘We are who we are, and nobody will thank or trust us for pretending we are not. But we do not see people as a means to some evangelistic end. We value them for who they are.’

What more could the Church in the Inns do?

Capacity is somewhat constrained because the preachers of both Gray’s and Lincoln’s Inn are retired and their availability is necessarily limited. Nevertheless there is a shared aim among all the preachers, in appropriate cases, to be able to refer people to specialist sources of support and counsel, and to do so on the basis of an improved understanding of the support which is, or could be made, available. The Churches in the Inns could share information about such sources and identify suitable contacts for the purpose of referrals. They see the Wellbeing Portal as a potentially useful adjunct in connection with pooling and sharing this information.

Spearing argues that more time and space could be made available for personal encounters and a confidential listening service. She says: ‘At Winchester, I used to go into the cathedral where I found peace and quiet, a sanctuary. Sometimes I talked with the Dean. He would ask me at the end of the sessions, whether they should pray, which I found very strengthening.’ At present all the chapels are open every day for prayer and meditation, and a surprising number of people avail themselves of this space. The capability of the Church in the Inns to provide more, as Spearing suggests, is not questioned but its capacity to do so may be limited without assessing priorities and plans.

Within the acknowledged constraints of their Christian foundations, there will be limits on the use to which the buildings of the Inns’ chapels might be put for wellbeing purposes, but opportunities for engaging with the Wellbeing at the Bar initiative should be pursued by the churches in collaboration with the Inns, the Circuits, SBAs and the Bar Council, Mercer believes.

Religion might be thought of as a toxic brand but a recent report by the religion and society think tank Theos evaluated evidence from 139 academic studies conducted over the last three decades which examined the relationship between religion and wellbeing, in a wide range of countries and contexts. It recognised that terms like ‘wellbeing’ and ‘religion’ cover a multitude of subtly different concepts. For example, in the case of the latter, religious affiliation, religious belief and religious participation and the former, mental health, physical health, and health supporting behaviours. The report examined the nuances in the relationship between religion and wellbeing and concluded that religion was indeed good for wellbeing, especially where it involves group participation.

This conclusion may not come as a surprise to the preachers of the four Inns of Court but it could support their efforts, on behalf of the Church in the Inns and the faith communities to which they relate, to address the challenges of wellbeing at the Bar.

Contributor The Reverend Mark Hatcher is Reader of the Temple and Special Adviser to the Chairman of the Bar

Opening times

Lincoln’s Inn Chapel is usually open between 9am and 5pm.
Gray’s Inn Chapel is open every weekday from 10am to 6pm. 
Temple Church is usually open between 10am and 4pm on weekdays.

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Mark Hatcher

Mark Hatcher is Special Adviser to the Chairman of the Bar. After working at the Law Commission and in the House of Lords, he became Head of Global Public Affairs at PwC. He is a Bencher of Middle Temple, as well as being a priest. He is Reader of the Temple.