Chester College, 1939

2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. The declaration of war in September 1939 was followed by some months of the so-called ‘phoney war’, when everyone knew that the nation was at war but there seemed to be no war going on. I remember my parents describing it as a very strange time.

What might have been going through the minds of the students here in Chester at that time? ‘The Collegian’ was their magazine and in the autumn of 1939 it included this paragraph about new students:

The present juniors entered the College at an inauspicious time, their impressions of College life cannot fail to be coloured by the conditions prevailing both inside College and elsewhere. Nor is it to be expected that the prospect of military service, immediately upon completion of their training, will not be in the minds of the new students. For a short time at the beginning of the term a feeling of strangeness did persist, not dispelled by the unearthly pallor of dormitories by night or by sleep-disturbing rehearsals of procedure during possible air raids.

The following is an abridged version of the article written by the College Principal, Revd Stanley Astbury, in the same edition of the magazine:

Principal’s Notes

The Michaelmas Term, 1938, started in circumstances of world crisis and the year proceeded in a state of continual uncertainty; by September, 1939, that state had changed for the certainty of war. We still carry on, but in a minor key. About a third of our second year men have already registered under the Military Service Act; already some half-dozen have left us. Clearly there is no desire on the part of the Cestrians to shirk their duty to their Country. There is a very definite desire to be told what the country wants of them and when. Meanwhile we hear of many 1939 men, and those of earlier years, performing deeds of gallantry in cook-house, canteen and elsewhere, and of not a few who are being recommended for Commissions and other important tasks. May I take this opportunity of asking for full information about any Cestrian serving in any branch of H.M. Forces. We are preparing a Roll of those serving and, as it will occupy a prominent place in the College, we want it to be complete and up-to-date all the time. So please send information about yourself, or any other you know of. This isn’t just sentiment or curiosity; we pray regularly for you in Chapel and we want to pray intelligently.

It is poignant to think that the students who read these words included those whose names are recorded in the book which commemorates members of the College who were killed during the war.

Pray for peace. Remembrance 2019

Peter Jenner



Prayer is the Therapy: Hearts of Stone to Hearts of Flesh

On 10th October the Church remembers Thomas Traherne, a seventeenth century priest and poet whose writings explore the beauty and goodness of God’s creation. Traherne was educated at Hereford Cathedral School and University of Oxford and took holy orders in 1656. During his lifetime his work was largely unknown but was re-discovered in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries and has become much admired.

In ‘Centuries of Meditations’ he writes:

“Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels…You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more so, because people are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world”.

How can we start each day with such an optimistic attitude and live the day in our Father’s Palace as if we were among the Angels? It’s quite a challenge in the humdrum of our daily lives.

In Luke Chapter 11, the disciples ask Jesus how they should pray. He gives them the words of The Lord’s Prayer, a pattern of praying which emulates the way Jesus lived his life and his relationship with his heavenly Father. We can call God Father because the Son calls him Father. We no longer need to hide from God, who is both an intimate Father God and heavenly Creator God. We can pray modestly for our daily needs, because our heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask. If we persist in prayer, we can have the assurance of knowing that “for everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened”, as our heavenly Father loves to pour out his blessings on us. We can live in a spirit of forgiveness, ready to receive and offer forgiveness, so that our communities can flourish. And we can pray for help and deliverance when trials and temptations come, just as Jesus did. In this prayer, these few lines, and in his own life, Jesus showed us what it means to be children of God and we can take our own place within his prayer and know that we are children, not of an anonymous God, but of the same heavenly Father as Jesus.

Luigi Gioia in his book ‘Say it to God’ says “prayer is the therapy through which our hearts of stone are progressively turned into hearts of flesh because prayer is simply remaining in the presence of the Lord just as flowers remain exposed to the light of the sun that sustains their life”. And “just like flowers, the moment we stop turning to the sun we start withering”. So perhaps we might like to begin each day with a prayer of thanksgiving, turning our face to the Son. We might like to pray the Lord’s Prayer, spoken very slowly line by line, to ponder the angels in our midst. Perhaps, as we practise this, we can truly enjoy and be grateful for what God gives us each day and share our blessings with one another as sisters and brothers of the same family.

AJ Upton

Chaplaincy Team


Modern Slavery

You know when you see something and it doesn’t quite look right? A friend showed me a picture recently of three men who were resurfacing her drive.  One of the three workers didn’t really speak, and didn’t seem to speak any English, she said.  She showed me a photo of them.  The odd thing was what he was wearing: he had on what looked like suit trousers and smart shoes, with a dirty t-shirt. “Yes,” I agreed, “That is a very odd thing to wear when laying a drive.”

It reminded me of a conversation I’d had in a supermarket car park with a woman who was cleaning my car in the middle of December.  “Are your hands not freezing?” I said. “No”, she said, “Gloves would just get wet.” “What about waterproof gloves?” I asked, “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.”  But I did worry about her, especially a few months later when she was reaching to clean my windscreen whilst very pregnant, and on her feet working a very long shift, with no chair to sit down. It felt a bit odd, but this was a car park of a huge supermarket. They must know who is working here and have all their rights protected.

At the time I lived in Oxford in a theological college with the sisters of Clewer, who were ‘on the sassy end’ of the monastic spectrum, according to our college Principal.  They sold their land in Devon and with some of the money, set up the Clewer Initiative, which raises awareness about modern slavery.  (  As part of this they have a ‘Safe carwash app‘ that they have made in conjunction with the Santa Marta Group. (

I recently downloaded the app and discovered a few features of modern slavery: people may not have appropriate clothing or equipment for the job they are doing; they may be dishevelled, or reluctant to speak; you may be asked to pay in cash; or have to give money to a manager. Then I read the report on the app, and discovered that of the 2000 people who downloaded the app, 41% recorded features of modern slavery. However, only 26% of the people who were advised by the app to contact the police, actually did.

The Church of England so wants to celebrate its place in the history of the Abolition of Slavery Act, however this is always tainted by the huge number of modern slaves that exist in Britain and around the world. Modern slaves who make components in our phones, who make our clothes, who clean our cars and do our nails.

In 2014, the Home Office estimated that there were 10,000 – 13,000 people living in Modern slavery in the UK. However, the Global Slavery Index estimates that there could be 136,000 slaves in the UK (, that’s more than the whole population of Chester.

Recently, the largest modern slavery ring has been convicted in the West Midlands.  They were discovered by people working in food banks, wondering why people were coming to them who said they had full time jobs, but earned only enough to pay their rent, nothing more. People who said their full-time pay was £60 per week.  It was these people, these volunteers, many of whom come from faith communities who actually saw these people and asked them about the circumstances of their lives. This was the only place they weren’t faces behind a mask in a nail bar, or hands that quickly and cheaply wash your car while you wait, or shop.  They weren’t noisy neighbours in an overcrowded house or a cleaner whose name you never asked. Seeing what is really in front of us and being brave enough to call out injustice when we suspect it are deeply Christian principles.  And it is made very easy when all we have to do is open our eyes and then make a phone call.  Anti-Slavery Day is Friday 18th October

Laura Rhodes


Love, Actually

Last week we had our farewell service in chapel and some of the leavers spoke about their experience of university and chapel community.  Here are the reflections of our very own Hannah, a fourth year English Literature and Spanish student.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that ‘all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’. If I had to summarise my experiences of chaplaincy while at university in one word, it would be love. In my first week of university, I got overwhelmed by the size of the campus and ducked into Chaplaincy House to seek refuge and it has acted as a safe harbour ever since. Even if it’s empty, the love stored in those walls makes me feel calmer and less frantic and less argh. At the core of all the memories I want to share is a sense of community, friendship and fellowship. 

I was the only first year to regularly attend chapel in my first year and when I think back, I feel like I was kinda the baby of chaplaincy? That’s not to say that I was babied, but I think chapel community has a way of letting that sense of fellowship and love wrap around the youngest ones? You’ll probably have to ask the current first years how they feel. I was particularly looked after by someone called Hannah, who was studying a PGCE, and a third year Geography student called Christa, but really, everyone in chapel community cares because, as Christians, we love each other.

UntitledOf course, the biggest demonstration of the community showing me their love was that time I got baptised. That was pretty cool. The nicest thing, obviously aside from actually being baptised, was the number of cards that had someone’s name followed by the words “chapel community” in brackets. I think the fact that multiple people thought “you probably don’t remember who I am exactly, but I am thinking of you and wishing you well on this day” demonstrates the love inside this community.

I also really liked the Chaplaincy trip to Liverpool that happened in my first year. Three Hannahs and two Sophies went on the chaplaincy trip to Liverpool in 2016, because that was the year of Hannahs and Sophies. If you didn’t know someone’s name, guess one of those and you were probably right. It was a lot smaller than the trip to the zoo we just had but the sense of fun and feeling of community were exactly the same.

Second year was bookended by pretty massive displays of friendship and love: the first service of the academic year had us announcing our engagement. Joseph told me he vaguely remembers that happening in the first ever chapel service he went to, so we do envelope everyone from the beginning. The other big Moment of friendship was definitely that time these two first met.


Peter and Vicky had guests over that day, guests who never got a word in at the dinner table because the history nerds got into a discussion about the Byzantine Empire. And why we shouldn’t call it the Byzantine Empire. For about four hours.

UntitledAnd then that weekend, we went away and it was sad! But then we came back! And there were new people, and suddenly I was the grown up in my fourth year of study taking freshers under my wing. And I was one of those final year students hanging around Chaplaincy House discussing my dissertation. And there were new things I’d never done before, like mobile ashing and baking. I started going to Faith & Food. There were more Chaplaincy trips. That sense of community grew stronger, like I’d never been gone. Sure, some people are gone and some people are new, but the love remains. Only faces ever change, the core of who we are as a community remains the same.

May we all strive to follow these principles of worship, learning, mission and friendship throughout our lives, but the greatest of these is friendship. The greatest of these is love. A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you. Amen.


By Hannah Buchanan

A Short Dissertation on Honey

Perhaps there should be a period in the year which is officially known as Dissertation Season. In the last couple of weeks much of the conversation around Chaplaincy House has been about putting the finishing touches to the most major piece of work most undergraduates have ever produced. Well done to everyone who has passed through the rigours involved and submitted their dissertation!

The other day I happened to read this:

It’s said that in traditional Jewish society, a child, when he was six or seven years old, was carried to the schoolroom for the first time by a Rabbi, where he received a clean slate on which the letters of the Hebrew alphabet had been written in honey. Licking off the slate while reciting the name of each letter, the child was in that way made to think of his studies as sweet and desirable. (Cott, 2013, p.50)

Honeycomb, Pollen Warehousing, Honey

Education, learning and training involves a lot of hard work. If you want to play a musical instrument, you need to practise scales until you are utterly fed up with them; learning a language entails hours of tedium going over vocabulary lists again and again until you find yourself reciting them in your sleep; writing a dissertation means getting to grips with the (sometimes seemingly utterly pedantic) minutiae of referencing in APA (unless, for reasons beyond me, you happen to be in the Department of English or Law), but …. (of course you knew I was heading for a ‘but’!) …

… but education should have an element of sweetness, desirability, joy, excitement and pleasure. There should be a rewarding sense of achievement in learning something or doing something new simply ‘because it’s there’. The University’s Foundational Values tell us:

we find joy in discovery;

we take pleasure in invention;

we celebrate human creativity;

and we seek wisdom, embracing it wherever we find it.

Hopefully we really do! Hopefully those of you who have just submitted a dissertation can see beyond the hard work and experience a real satisfaction in completing a worthwhile piece of work. Remember: it really is OK to get excited about your work! It has been rewarding to hear the genuine enthusiasm with which some people have talked about their dissertations recently. Thanks to those of you who have let me read your work; you have produced some great scholarship. Well done!

Math, Blackboard, Education, Classroom

… and, just to show that the ability to navigate APA is a very useful life-skill, I have referenced formally the above quote about honey and now add a bibliography in case you wish to read it in context:

Cott, J. (2013). Dinner with Lenny. Oxford, UK: Oxford University.




Walking in the Way of St Cuthbert


I recently went on pilgrimage with a group from my church community. Over the course of 6 days, we walked St Cuthbert’s Way, a 62.5 mile walk between Melrose in the Scottish Borders and Holy Island in Northumberland, taking in some of the terrain and places traditionally associated with St Cuthbert’s life, ministry and death.

Cuthbert began his monastic life at Melrose Abbey, which was where our journey began. We were excited but a little nervous about how we would feel on our journey and cope with the physical challenge. We started out from Melrose, taking in panoramic views, often surrounded by the warm vanilla scent of gorse and the aroma of wild garlic. Cuthbert was known for his asceticism, which we weren’t particularly aiming for – we had a comfortable bed and breakfast and a good meal to look forward to at the end of each day. But each day brought its own physical and emotional challenges and tested us in different ways and we appreciated the kindness and hospitality we received along the way from all sorts of people.

After a couple of days of walking we were able to take stock of how far we’d travelled, as we could look back at the hills through which we’d walked. This was a boost before we had to climb the highest part of the route up to the halfway point at Wideopen Hill, where we had lunch in the pouring rain with our backs to a stone wall for shelter.

One of the definitions of pilgrimage I heard recently was that it is about connecting with an outer landscape in order to reveal our inner landscapes. The longest walking day of our pilgrimage was the most difficult for me. The scenery was stunning, but it was a challenging uphill walk and I was tired. But having friendly companions helped a lot and reaching the border between Scotland and England felt like a significant moment – there was a sense of lifted spirits and renewed energy, as we got closer to Holy Island. On the last long day of walking we stopped for lunch at St Cuthbert’s Cave, where legend has it that monks from the Lindisfarne community hid with St Cuthbert’s body as they fled from Viking raids on Lindisfarne.

Eventually we found ourselves at Holy Island and for a while relished the fact that we had ‘arrived’ at our destination and spent a couple of hours on the beach with our packed lunches watching the seals bob around St Cuthbert’s Isle, reputedly one of the islands where St Cuthbert lived as a hermit. We spent time exploring Holy Island, at times feeling close to the mainland, at other times, when the tide turned, completely cut off. I could appreciate how St Cuthbert spent time wandering, preaching and teaching, but also felt the call to island life, to set himself apart from the mainland and devote himself to prayer.

Our pilgrimage came to an end when we took taxis from Holy Island and only an hour later, arrived back in Melrose, which put into perspective our long journey of the last week. But perhaps what we could take from that is that after death, St Cuthbert’s legacy continued (find out more about St Cuthbert at and so our shared journey, the friendships we formed, the hospitality we experienced, the respect for the natural world, would continue, but in different forms and in different places.

Alison Upton


The Divine Creative Spark

I have never been to California, but if I ever do find myself somewhere near Los Angeles, I will not be able to resist the temptation to go to a rather run-down suburb called Watts, essentially to visit someone’s back garden. At the end of a cul-de-sac, in a non-descript house backing onto a railway line, there once lived an Italian by the name of Simon Rodia. His profession was listed as ‘cement finisher and tile setter’. He moved into Watts in 1921 and once there he spent every available moment of the next 34 years in his garden building Things. These Things became known as the Watts Towers. The centrepiece is a tower a few inches short of a hundred feet tall. The Towers look like a giant 3D spider’s web. It all claims to be the largest structure ever made by one man working alone. Rodia was offered help many times but he said this: “Nobody helped me. I think if I hire a man he don’t know what to do. A million times I don’t know what to do myself.”

Rodia 2

Every surface of the towers is covered with eccentric, brightly-covered patterns which on close examination include all sorts of everyday objects embedded in concrete. The decoration includes 15 000 tiles, 11 000 pieces of pottery, 10 000 shells, 6 000 pieces of glass, various bits of railway equipment and all sorts of other things.

One day the Los Angeles Building and Safety Department woke up to the fact that for 30-odd years someone had been building 100-foot towers without planning permission or any safety checks. So an aerospace engineer devised a ‘load test’. A steel cable was tied to the tallest tower in an attempt to pull it over. It turned out that the towers are so strong and stable that the test had to end because the Tower refused to fall down and the steel cable snapped because it was under so much tension.

Over the years Simon Rodia gave a lot of interviews and, of course, he was always asked, “Why?” He was only too pleased to give an answer. The trouble is, he always gave a different answer. He seems to have been incapable of communicating coherently, except by building giant Things. There are various suggestions about how best to understand what Rodia thought he was doing. Some people have looked into the life and work of this eccentric and see in him an extreme example of a trait which is in all of us: the need to be creative. One aspect of his story is quite revealing: when Rodia deemed the Towers to be finished, for a time he disappeared. He never wanted his creation to make him famous or rich; his motivation was the pure, fundamental, enjoyable, satisfying act of creating as an end in itself, an inbuilt drive to bring into being something which was not there before.

I first came across the Watts Towers through an account in The Ascent of Man, the history of science which was the brilliant creation of Jacob Bronowski. Bronowski says that Simon Rodia “had learned his engineering skill as he went along, by doing, and by taking pleasure in the doing.”  That’s a good basis for life; we learn best by doing and taking pleasure in the doing.

The Bible begins with two creation stories. In the first of them, in Genesis 1, we read that on the first ever Friday afternoon, we humans were made in the image of our creator. But if you’ve read from the beginning of the Bible, at that point you only know two things about God. The first is that he has spent five days making things. The second thing is that he looks at what he has brought into being and he sees ‘that it is good’. So the most fundamental thing about us, in his image, is that we have an inbuilt drive to create and a propensity to take delight in what is; our fundamental humanity is found in being excited about bringing things into being and in finding joy in what exists … hence we occasionally finding ourselves building giant Things colourfully, magnificently and extravagantly. However, creating is not always about making physical things; for some of us the creative satisfaction is in creating music or literature or knowledge or understanding or insight or community or family; bringing into being something intangible is no less creative. It is worth taking a little time to wonder what exists which would not be there without us; whatever you have brought into being is a reflection of the divine creative spark in each of us which is fundamental to who we are.

Peter Jenner