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Marie Curie apologises after Christian chaplain told to remove cross

by Donna Birrell

The charity Marie Curie has apologised unreservedly to a Christian chaplain after he was told he would face 'consequences' and would need 're-training' if he did not remove a half-inch badge pin with a cross on it from his jumper.

73-year-old Derek Timms was told by a Methodist minister at the charity's Solihull branch, that he must not wear the cross as it might 'offend' and create 'barriers' with patients.

The controversy began in September, shortly after the branch announced that the job titles of members of the chaplaincy would be changed to 'spiritual advisors.' The move signalled a more 'interfaith' approach.  

A new Methodist minister began leading the 'spiritual advisors' and after meeting Mr Timms told him in an email that he should refrain from wearing a cross.

The email said: "In line with the ethos of hospice and healthcare chaplaincy, no religious symbols should be worn by those engaged in spiritual care. We need to be there for people of all faiths and none. Whilst I recognised you shared a story about one patient liking the cross you wore, it can create a barrier to others. The idea is that we should be appear neutral and that enables a spiritual encounter that is about what the person we are visiting needs."

In response, Mr Timms asked why the crosses were prohibited as it "shows people I am a Christian chaplain." He asked whether the same approach applied to Sikhs with turbans and Muslims wearing a burqa or prayer dress. He said that: "My faith helps me to help the patients and staff whether they have faith or not", and added that, "I assume that on Tuesday if I am wearing my cross I will be sent home."

As a compromise it was suggested that Mr Timms could wear a cross in his pocket and put it on if he was going into the room of a person of Christian faith.

Mr Timms then searched the Code of conduct for Healthcare Chaplains and NHS Chaplaincy guidelines and he failed to find any reference to either the wearing of crosses or any other religious symbols being prohibited or otherwise.

After raising this, however, Mr Timms was told that this was not about whether he could or could not wear the crosses but 'the ethos of what it means to be a chaplain or spiritual care provider.'

At a meeting with the minister, Mr Timms was told that unless he took his cross off, he could not work at Marie Curie as a chaplain. He then handed in his identification badge and left the premises.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Timms then wrote to the Methodist minister saying: "I have had a crisis of conscience since I received this request. I would note that I have worn the pin for 11 years on a daily basis as a chaplain before joining Marie Curie Solihull. I have worn it for five years while working for Marie Curie. I have serious and cogent reasons for wearing it and consider it a manifestation of my faith and a devotion to God. The cross I wear around my neck is also highly meaningful to me as it represents a physical devotion to both my late wife and to God who brought us together and blessed our marriage.

"I have searched the Marie Curie Solihull website, policy documents, the NHS website and nowhere can I find where there is a written policy which prohibits the wearing of crosses in my specific situation or why it is prohibited."

Mr Timms' letter was then escalated to the Marie Curie regional head office who this month wrote in response: "I can confirm that currently we have neither an organisational or uniform policy that would support our recent request to remove your cross while supporting patients and families in the Hospice. I apologise unreservedly for the distress that we have caused."

Responding to the apology, Mr Timms, who supported vulnerable patients and families throughout the pandemic at Marie Curie, said: "I was shocked and hurt by how I was treated.

"There was and is no need to suppress the symbol of the cross and in so doing send a message that the Christian faith needs to be neutralised or removed entirely from a chaplaincy front line service.

"Interfaith ideology is becoming so firmly embedded throughout the Christian faith that it is essentially cancelling itself.   

"When I became a Christian, I wanted to show people the faith that totally changed my life. I vowed that I would stand up for Jesus and wear a cross to show people the faith that I have.

"I started wearing a cross 14 years ago and have not stopped since. No one is going to tell me that I can't wear it as it means so much to me. No one has ever been offended until now.

"The easiest thing to do would have been to say, 'I'll take it off', but I thought, 'no', I should be standing up for what I believe in.

"If I had given in, I believe I would have been saying that I am embarrassed to be a Christian.

"From experience, by wearing my cross, patients trust me, they might not have my faith or belief, but they trust me. I always meet people 'where they are' whether they are a Muslim or atheist, and it has always been a privilege for me to support people at the toughest moments in their lives.

"I welcome and appreciate the apology from Marie Curie but believe my work as a chaplain now lies elsewhere."

In a statement to Premier, a  Marie Curie spokesperson said : 

"The charity does not have, and never has had, a policy that prohibits the wearing of religious symbols. Furthermore, we unambiguously support the right for all staff and volunteers to do so. 
We have issued an apology on this. We are clear that the charity is inclusive of everyone and values each individual's contribution. We want every part of Marie Curie to be a place where everyone feels accepted and this includes protecting people's right to wear a religious symbol."


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