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

Epiphany

I think that sometimes it’s easy to get lulled into some sort of complacency about things with which we’re familiar, and that a check with reality can be useful.

I live in a community of about 30 people, mostly very elderly and many with serious health conditions. I’m so used to our weekly fire bell tests and the slamming of the fire doors that I note them subconsciously and carry on with what I’m doing.  But late on Saturday night, things changed. The alarms rang continuously; I heard the fire-doors slam; I started coughing on the acrid black smoke rolling down the corridor.  I moved from complacency to reality.

The problems we encountered getting very frail and elderly people down the stairs, and looking after them; the noise and the mess of the fire engines, the firemen, the paramedics, and the alarms ringing and ringing … I was hit with reality. I’m now seeing the fire drills in a different way!

I think that I’ve viewed the tale of the three Kings in a similar way. three-wise-men-3257957_1920 I grew up knowing about the Baby, the Shepherds and the Kings.  I knew the Kings were wealthy men who wore sumptuous robes, and who travelled from afar bringing wonderful gifts for the new King.  Over time, I learned to call them Magi , to recognise that they were wise men, that they came a long way following the star.  But it was still a comfortable and familiar story.  Two events challenged this complacency…

The first time was when we studied TS Eliot in school. From the first time I heard the opening words of the poem, The Journey of the Magi,  I was captured by the sheer physicality experienced by the travellers:

A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year for such a journey … the ways deep, the weather sharp, the very dead of winter.

The sort of winters we used to have in the 50s and 60s! And the more we studied the poem, the more I became aware of the real difficulties of that journey:

The camel men cursing … grumbling … running away … wanting their liquor and women… the cities hostile… the towns unfriendly … the villages dirty and charging high prices.

This isn’t a graceful and easy journey across the sand dunes with a focus on Mary and a newborn King. This is a hard, cold, miserable, difficult time.  It’s as real as our own lives and experiences.

joshua-tree-3092596_1920The poem also has a darkness in it, far removed from the cheerful Nativity plays. In one line, the Magi describe seeing on the horizon: Three trees on the low sky. They haven’t yet met the Baby but unknowingly they already see signs of what was to come.  Standing starkly outlined against a darkening sky, the three crosses; the inevitability of the Crucifixion.

Eliot shows The Magi as thinking people, reflective, and suffering in order to do what they think is right: to pay homage to a child whom they know will change the world. For me, this poem brought hard reality to the story and thereby it became more powerful

The second time that reality offered me an insight occurred some 35 years ago in Fuerteventura, at Epiphany.  There weren’t so many tourists in those days and visitors and villagers mixed more readily. I was standing at the side of a small road, and suddenly found myself surrounded (pushed aside actually!) by scores of noisy and excited local children.

I looked in the direction they were facing – and there, against the strong light of the low sun, the silhouette of 3 camels coming towards us.  Lurching along the narrow road, enormous and splay footed, slowly coming nearer and nearer. And atop the camels – three Kings in glittering crowns and rippling rich jewel coloured robes, throwing handsful of sweets into the crowd.

For a minute or so, as they came alongside, I saw the tawdriness of the crowns and cheapness of the robes, but the kids didn’t.  The camels didn’t stop or even slow down: I watched them continue their slow rocking journey to the next village. And for a moment I saw the Wise Men in all their reality: scruffy, tired, on a seemingly endless journey following a star to find a king: the promised King.

If we accept that our own experiences can bring us greater understanding and empathy, we can see that the reality of the hard, messy, and unforgiving journey of the Magi, actually serves to strengthen the story.

These tough men, who unflinchingly trusted in the Star, brought us far more than gold, frankincense and myrrh. Today, they lead us to the Light, to a greater understanding of God’s word, to a Grace beyond comprehension, to wholeness, healing and peace.

Walking in the Way of St Cuthbert

Sunset

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 https://www.durhamworldheritagesite.com/history/st-cuthbert) 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

 

Epiphany Moments

See the source imageThese days, I’m not one for exercise, but I do remember once on New Year’s Day, coming back from a run, where I bumped into a couple of friends, hungover and smoking at the gates where I lived. They were shocked at my energetic behaviour and questioned what I could possibly do for a New Year’s resolution if I had already done a run on New Year’s Day? Now friends, I don’t want to sound too worthy, I am so far away from the fit young thing I was then. But these words stuck with me. What could I do? And so I decided on an alternative New Year’s resolution and followed the words of Thomas Merton: to try to live at all times in “spontaneity, freedom and love.”  Other people did gap years. I did this.

And so began a rather strange journey. Initially I interpreted this to mean saying yes to nearly everything I was asked.  This mirrors the journey of Danny Wallace who wrote a book, Yes Man about his vow to say yes to every offer, invitation, challenge, and chance that came his way.  Read it, it’s a great story of adventure. In my case, it was strangely freeing, I was unafraid of everything, no challenge or adventure was beyond me. Just a caveat – in Thomas Merton-land living in ‘Spontaneity, freedom and love’ doesn’t mean doing whatever you feel like; acting under compulsion isn’t freedom. Freedom is acting out of love, rather than fear. Sometimes doing things that are dangerous, or risky is what freedom truly is.  This was a big departure for me.  And, I am afraid, it turned out to be too hard in the end. I could only manage six months and then I was too exhausted to carry on. But living in spontaneity, freedom and love led me down strange paths and on unexpected adventures, including the rather bizarre decision to offer myself to the church as a priest.

At New Year the Church remembers the Epiphany – the coming of the Magi. The star appears as an interruption to the life of those travellers. I wonder if this is how God appears in our lives – through interruptions and unexpected moments? The Magi might not have bothered with the star.  They might have said, “I wonder what that star is? Oh well, never mind. It’s probably has nothing to do with me.”  But they didn’t. The way we treat unplanned events in our lives matters.  Do we look with an open heart? Or do we look on with fear?Purple, Sky, Dusk, Shooting Star, Stars

Maybe we could choose a different kind of New Year’s resolution, instead of dieting or taking up exercise. We can choose to accept new things with grateful acceptance, and choose adventure when it comes calling, because through our fearless journeying, we find God.

L Rhodes

 

New Starts

September is a time of new starts, a new university year. The chaplaincy would like to introduce Rob Croft, who is going to be one of our ‘listening ears,’ pastorally supporting staff at our Queen’s Park campus, which is in the parish of St Mary’s Handbridge, where Rob serves as a reader.  Rob and I have both had new starts this year, and we offer you our reflections on, in my case, a new job at the university, and Rob’s house move and the start of his ‘retirement’.

I started here at the University in January. I felt at first like I was walking into a foreign land of ‘millennials’ and was unsure of what to make of this group I had read so much about in the papers. Sam Wells, who was Dean of chapel at Duke University tells a story in his book Learning to Dream again, about Pringles. As a new curate he took some Pringle crisps, when they were new, to the youth group. He offered them round and as they were all taking so many he took them back again and hid them behind a cushion. The youth leader looked at him, shocked as if to say, are you really not sharing those crisps? So he reluctantly peeled the lid back off and passed them round again.

I have found the same experience with students at the University. As I started, the position of chaplain had been vacant for six months. The engagement with chaplaincy had decreased. Then the students started to appear, a few extras and some peripheral members came to the centre. Their conversations were often ridiculous, and as exams loomed, you could see the stress descend on them. I have discovered that safeguarding issues, that were straightforward with children in school, become very complicated when you are dealing with people who have turned eighteen. Parents have to step back until children are willing to ask for help or share information with them. I learned that many students are older and juggling complex family arrangements, work and caring responsibilities whilst studying. I learned every death is tragic.

I ended the summer term with a cacophony of noise and chaos in our office. One student snatched my sermon off my desk and shouted it out in a baby voice, holding it above his head.   I thought, this doesn’t happen at St Mary’s. We then had our final service and I thought, are these really the future of the church? But once that community starts, once those journeys start, you can’t contain it or preserve the bits you want to keep. I can’t stop it, or control it. Then I noticed a packet of Pringles next to me. The lid’s off.

Laura Rhodes

 

In June I gave up paid work. I moved to a newly refurbished house, its walls freshly painted, its fittings new. The furniture is yet to find its settled place among the piles of books and kitchenware. Somehow the clutter is remarkably familiar; didn’t I plan to leave it all behind?

I was a civil servant in an arm of the Cabinet Office. I travelled each day to Liverpool, occasionally to London. Now I can do what I choose. I have enjoyed waking up to blue skies and the gentle breeze blowing through the open window.

It’s the start of a new story. But there feels more to it. There are large parts of the old story still with me and I feel I have much to let go before my extra time will be fruitful. I feel too questions waiting for me, questions not in any rush to go elsewhere.

New stories are personal stories, but they are also shared stories. New stories run into and flow from the stories of others. Whose will those other stories be? It’s too early to say. I know hardly any of the neighbours – perhaps five of the nearest thousand people! To discover those stories, I must venture out, giving and receiving hospitality on the way.

Shared stories are spiritual stories too. The Bible tells us so in the first chapter of Genesis:

And God created the human in his image,

in the image of God he created them,

It is together as community, that we reflect God. None is the full image of God alone.

Our stories form a whole with God’s story. How are we to discern what God is doing in our communities? How are we to connect to God’s story? What’s my part, what’s your part? And how do we connect our stories and those of our neighbours?

I prefer to experience the stories from within, meeting people, listening and hearing what they are saying. The questions waiting for me are not impatient. They understand responses can take time. But they suggest it’s good to respond, it’s good to be on the way.

If you have time to tell your story, I hope I now have time to listen and to hear. If I say I’m too busy, just tell me I’m talking nonsense. For our stories matter to each other and to God, who made us, who loves us and who keeps us.

Rob Croft