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.


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.