Charity apologizes after Methodist minister rebuked chaplain for wearing ‘offensive’ cross

Derek Timms
Derek Timms | Christian Legal Centre

The United Kingdom-based charity Marie Curie, which provides care and support to people living with a terminal illness, has apologized to a Christian chaplain who was told by a local chaplaincy supervisor he would face "consequences" if he did not remove a cross at a hospice where he volunteered.

Derek Timms, a 73-year-old businessman-turned-chaplain who serves with Marie Curie's Solihull branch, received an apology from the charity's regional office this month after he was told he could not wear his cross as part of the Solihull branch's "spiritual advisors" program, according to the Christian Legal Centre

According to the legal group representing Timms, the issue began in September after the Solihull branch changed the job titles of chaplains to "spiritual advisors" as part of a new "interfaith" approach.

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The Methodist minister who began serving as the head of the program in Solihull allegedly sent Timms an email saying she was "surprised" he wears a cross and he should refrain from doing so. Timms claims he was told the cross he has worn while serving with the charity for the past four years might "offend" and create "barriers." The cross in question is a tiny pin badge attached to the outside of his shirt.  

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."

According to the Christian Legal Centre, Timms wears the cross not only as a manifestation of his faith but also in memory of his wife, who died earlier this year. Timms also wears a discreet cross necklace containing some of his wife's ashes.

Timms responded to the email by saying the cross shows he is a Christian chaplain and asked whether the same rule applied to Sikhs with turbans and Muslims wearing a burka or prayer dress. The minister allegedly then told Timms he would need some "re-training."

Timms was told that he and the head of the program would have to have a face-to-face meeting to determine "if you are suitable to continue providing spiritual care for us here."

With the CLC's support, Timms wrote a letter that was escalated to the Marie Curie regional head office, citing excerpts from a high-profile legal judgment on the freedom to wear the cross in the workplace.

"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," he wrote.

Earlier this month, the regional head office responded to Timms' letter, stating that Marie Curie does not have an organizational 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," the letter reads, according to Christian Legal Centre. 

In a statement, Timms said he welcomes the apology but believes his work as a chaplain "now lies elsewhere."

"I was shocked and hurt by how I was treated," he said.

"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."

Timms said that "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," Timms added. 

CLC chief executive Andrea Williams said Timms "showed great courage by refusing to cave into the significant pressure to remove what mattered so much to him."

In June, a Christian factory worker in Scotland who was fired by 2 Sisters Food Group Limited in Coupar Angus after he told his line manager that he wouldn't take off his crucifix necklace as it had a "deep and profound meaning" for him won more than $26,000 in a religious discrimination suit.

In January, a British tribunal ruled in favor of a Christian nurse who was forced to resign from a hospital over her refusal to stop wearing a cross to work.

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