‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’

As we continue our series of blogs from our leavers, here we have Hannah, a Masters Student in English Literature.

When you start postgraduate study, everybody warns you about how isolating it can be. Of course, on my induction day back in October, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how isolated I would become; I can’t even work in my garden because our Wi-Fi doesn’t get that far. As a post-grad student, you’re encouraged to make sure you have a support network and if I didn’t have Chaplaincy House to sit around in all day, every day, then I would have been incredibly lonely. Isle of Man LegsChaplaincy has provided me with a strong group of cheerleaders, confidantes, sounding boards and pun generators, who have kept me endlessly supplied in tea, sympathy, and legs (Ed. These legs are chocolate and come from the Isle of Man. See picture) Only having four contact hours a week does free up time though. I had several new experiences this year as part of Chapel Community: we organised a whole Nativity procession, complete with costumes, props and Christingles; we went to Gladstone’s Library, and that bus to Warrington is an experience all on its own.

Obviously, the biggest thing that happened this year was the Nativity procession. I am so incredibly grateful for Patsy for organising the whole thing – her tenacity and verve is inspiring and really pushed us Nativity 1all forward into making it happen. It was so fun to be creative and to bring the Gospel to life; we had a chance to throw ourselves into this service, and we did, from Heather transforming her chariot into a camel to Rob’s sack. I still watch the film that Ruth made when I’m feeling a bit blue and remind myself of how wonderful our community here is.

Gladstone Library

I also really enjoyed going to Gladstone’s Library together in January. Heather poured her heart and every scrap of energy she had into organising it for us, and I am incredibly grateful – she even made us a quiz, which I took back with me when I went with my friend in March. Chaplaincy has given me opportunities to go to places that I would be too anxious to visit otherwise, and these experiences and memories are ones I will cherish for years to come.

 

The second biggest thing this year was that we welcomed a new chaplain! Last year I said that one of the best things about Chapel was the way that although people come and go, the core of who we are as a community never changes. Last year we said goodbye to Chaplaincy stalwarts like Joseph, Matthew, and Fr. Robert but this year we welcomed Gill, who slotted right into our loving and friendly, if slightly eccentric, community. I’m very glad I was able to go to her installation service in Warrington; it was lovely to help officially welcome Gill into our community and to meet Bishop Keith, who comes from a tiny South London village called Carshalton. It also meant that after so many years hearing stories about this mysterious other campus, I finally experienced it for myself. It is as eerily quiet as the legends say: Alison took me, Debbie, and Patsy on a mini tour around the campus, and we hardly saw anyone!

Gill

In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ says ‘where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them’ (Matthew 18.20). I wholeheartedly believe that in Chaplaincy, this does not apply just to our worship; instead, Christ is present in everything that we do. So many wonderful things happened this year which have strengthened us as a community, to the point that, even now as we are separated by hundreds of miles (and in some cases, a whole lot of water), we are still connected and we still feel like members of Chapel Community. After all, nothing brings a community together like an accidental Brexit party and nearly killing the chaplain with a non-alcoholic jelly shot. Thank you for being my support network this year and every other year. May we strive to keep Christ at the centre of our lives and our community here, letting his love shine through us in everything that we do, everything that we say, and everything that we are.  Amen. 

Hannah Title page blog

Life is a Never-Ending Surprise

In the second of our blogs from leavers’, we hear from Debbie who tells about us her reflections on her two years in Chester.Debbie photo

Indeed, the two years have been full of wonder and surprise: first of all, coming to the UK to do my undergraduate degree was a surprise, staying another year for a Masters was a consequent surprise. I thought I would be back in Malaysia at this present time.

 

What I found new and surprising about living Debbie Snowin the UK is the crazy weather. Because I come from a tropical country where there is hardly any other weather than heat and rain, the weather here seemed bizarre. I can’t recall how many times I’ve witnessed sun, rain, heat and cold all in a day. I gave up on using an umbrella eventually. I also got to see snow and sleet for the first time in my life, that was in the first year I was in Chester.

Another thing that I found surprising is the loving community that I experience, although I am an international student. I always thought that people would look at me differently because of my colour, but I never really felt that being here. So thank you for that, especially the chaplaincy community, for having me as part of the community, although I was always the quietly listening one.

Interestingly, my most memorable moments were not about study, but about every other thing that I was into. I got interested in hiking, I started gardening, although I always thought I do not have green fingers. That got me to love and enjoy being in nature more than I did when I was back home. Maybe because I don’t sweat that much when I go outside compared to being at home. Besides, I still get to do what I liked, that is joining in university choir and volunteering with children. I had the opportunity of visiting at least one place in each country in the UK, except for Northern Ireland.

Debbie Mountain

I think I still need to mention a bit about my study because that is why I am here. I have always done in depth and self-study, but I realise there is much more independence in taking my interest in my desired direction. I found this challenging because I don’t always have a clear idea of what I want to do for my essays. Critical thinking is still a progressive skill for me. One of the other memorable things about my study life is the nights that I spent frantically writing my essays to hand in on time. Life is a learning curve, but I think mine is a really steep one.

I spent time volunteering, helping out in church, and minimal part-time work. I have learned a variety of things, discovered potentials that I never really thought I had, and developed different interests beyond my area of study. Through these experiences, I have learned to be adventurous, willing to try new things, and be out of my comfort zone. Because of the different perspective and eye opening knowledge, I learned to be more receptive to new ideas. I think that is important in becoming employable and working in an ever diverse community, in a constantly changing time.

It is interesting thinking back on the things that I have learned and experienced here. I thank God for bringing me here, shaping and molding me into a person that I would have never imagined I would be in the past two years. I will surely miss everything here and wish I could stay longer, but well, who knows? Life is a never ending surprise.

Debbie

Eating Meal Worms and other Adventures

Over the next few weeks, we have a series of blogs from our leavers. Here we have Charlotte’s reflections.  Watching her grow from a shy first year has been a great joy.  She reflects on her time in the chapel community, her growth at university and her shared love of the University of Chester senior management team.

I would like primarily, to say thank you. Used to be shyChaplaincy has been a huge part of my university experience. It might be hard to believe now but before I stared coming to chapel, around halfway through my first year, I was rather shy. I have made so many great friends and memories. I could never have imagined that I would be playing Marco Polo in a dark chapel with a woman that spends her spare time in a beard! Even after I began attending chapel, I took my time in joining in with the community I now know that “making friendships that last a life time” isn’t just a rumour, although apparently some friends get out of bed before 9am!? Not me!

My faith in God has grown as much as I have in the past few years. Like my friends, God has helped me to overcome many challenges. University being a place of learning, I have also discovered much about his teachings and the way that different people worship. They say that there are no silly questions but those who have answered many of mine might just disagree.

ChaarlotteWhile studying a science I have had many interesting lectures, one of my favourites was about photons and the way that light behaves and took place during the carol service at St Thomas’ Church.

One part of #My Chester story, that has combined personal, academic and spiritual growth was when I spoke at chapel. I enjoyed telling everyone all about the importance of looking after God’s planet as a Christian, and how entomophagy (which I can now pronounce with confidence) fits in to this. I learned a lot about worship from selecting the psalms and readings with Peter, and it meant that I had to get on with my literature review. Thank you to all of those that took part in my rather unorthodox dissertation. (Also, Orthodox is a type of denomination!)

Talking to you all helped me to grow in confidence. If a few years ago any one would have told me that a Rev Canon Dr Peter, Dean of Chapel would be telling me that one of the university governors would be telling the vice-chancellor about my dissertation, I would have asked you what all of those words meant. And I’m sure you would have explained patiently.

I hope to go on to find a career that I can get as enthusiastic about as I did my work-based learning placement. I can’t wait to see you all again after this is over, I couldn’t have done it without you all.

I will be back to see you all as often as I can,Chris and Peterif not only to fan girl over the senior management team. While our friend Chris is my personal favourite, Adrian better be wearing his wig at graduation!

Charlotte Baker, Third Year Nutrition Student

Love in a time of Corona

We seem to have discovered a new ‘us’, a new spirit of togertherness in our communities.  How surprising, that we have unprecedented levels of volunteering, supporting neighbours, new community groups, huge donations to charity. All this, despite being in the most difficult personal and financial situation many of us have ever faced.

In the last blog I wrote, I said God gave us the tools to deal with pandemics, but they have another name: the fruit of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5.22-23)

Today I want to focus on two of them: kindness and love. Before the pandemic one of the major news stories was the suicide of the TV presenter, Caroline Flack. A quote she had shared on Instagram was everywhere: ‘If you can be anything, be kind.” Yet, there was talk in some quarters about how she was held up as a victim when she was accused and on trial for domestic abuse. But maybe it was right not to judge Caroline Flack. Jesus said to address the plank in our own eye before we look to criticise the splinter in our neighbour’s; That being loving and promoting peace, means not judging others. We’re told to leave that up to God. Love and peace are not just feelings, they are actions; things that we promise to do, just like wedding vows. When the feeling of love isn’t keeping us in our relationship, then the promises we make keep us there. It is how we behave that matters, ‘Let us love, not in word and speech, but in truth and action.’ (1 John)

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Image by reneebigelow from Pixabay

We have seen kindness and altruism everywhere in the last two months. Our communities have come together to support each other. We’ve all learned to admit we are vulnerable and become more aware of the stories of others. We formed a new kind of ‘us’. Our communities have grown through love and kindness.

But now things become more complicated. As the schools start to go back I see judgement on those who send their children back and judgement on those who don’t. Judgement on those who take the opportunity to embrace some of our new freedoms and others who see that as dangerous.

We hear that an eight year old living in poverty is already a year behind their classmates. If they are off until September, research says that gap will extend to two years behind. Some children do not have technology to stay in touch with school and friends, equipment to learn, gardens, space, parents who can help them. Others are on their own at home, desperately lonely and missing their friends. As parents worry about infection rates and the best way their child can flourish, it can become easy to position ourselves in one camp and judge the other side.

Similarly as some go out and take advantage of Christian Aidnew freedoms, other stay in and judge their actions. As some flout the rules, it can be harder to keep to them and feelings of animosity are natural. However, we are told to be kind. Not just to nice people, not just to people whom we agree with, not just when it is easy, but always. Do not judge others. To stop our natural sense to judge, we must try to always live in love. Stronger than any ventilator or vaccine is love. In words from Christian Aid this year: “Love never fails. Coronavirus impacts us all. But love unites us all.”

Laura Rhodes

 

What does a Chaplain do?

I have to write an explanation of what I do as a chaplain.  So here goes:

When asked what we do in chaplaincy, my natural tendency is to laugh. My job is varied and always likely to take an unexpected turn. The major aspect is listening to staff and students and the difficulties they are going through. This can vary from home sickness, the ill health or death of family members, struggles with friends or colleagues, work, or anxiety. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a chaplain because you can meet them first, have a few cups of tea and decide if this is the person you want to trust with your difficulties, your secrets.

Sometimes people are in great distress. The current waiting time for help with domestic abuse is four weeks, for sexual abuse it is four months. We listen to people, give them a safe place to talk or cry or sit while they wait. We hear stories from staff and students, but we also have a place on university committees, so we are able to feed back some of the struggles that we have seen and heard to help improve people’s experience.

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In Chester we have a wonderful chapel community of staff and students. We meet each week for breakfast after prayer on a Monday, for lunch after prayer on a Tuesday and dinner on Tuesdays and after chapel on Wednedays. We pray for the university and the world and we have a service once a week. Our main Wednesday service is varied. We had a transremembrance service, where we read out the 20191126_192155names of the 291 trans people around the world who have been murdered this year. The week before we heard an inspiring talk about fasting in Islam. The next week we had a traditional Advent communion service. The following week we had students and staff dressed up in dressing gowns and cable-tie halos for a nativity procession around Parkgate Road campus and a Christingle service (like when you were seven).

20191120_142809I run a weekly baking session, whilst kneading and making breadcrumbs, whole life stories come tumbling out. Many languages are spoken and we learn through bread and cakes about cultures from all over the world; all from the tiny kitchen in Chaplaincy House.

I say yes to every manner of strange project. I work with different departments talking about wellbeing, reflective practice, end of life care, religious literacy, modern slavery or anything else I am asked to do. We support students with disabilities and talk about vocations. We work with the wider community, with Green Chester and get involved in local projects. And there is a LOT of washing up. We are working with students after all.

Laura Rhodes

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.