Presence without a presence...

Author: Andy Walton

Date: 13 February 2014

In a guest blog, we hear from Revd Craig Barber, Lead Chaplain at London Met University on his experiences in ministry...

One of the great joys of University chaplaincy is the incredible diversity of activity that one finds oneself engaged in. The pressures upon students, staff and related stakeholders in the wider community arising from ongoing periods of change experienced by Higher and other sectors of Education create something of a maelstrom. Being at the centre of this is part of the University the chaplain's role. More specific to London Met, the ever revolving door of students from many nationalities and faiths flowing in and out from semester to semester and the demands they bring in terms of advice, wellbeing, academic retention, employability demands and general life and faith support create an incredible pressure for any chaplaincy team (ie myself and a part-time colleague who himself has the pressure of being URC chaplain ‘at large’ across London) to carry. It is a joyful ministry – working with younger people always is but it is also an intense one encountering individuals at their most vulnerable, away from home or country, family and cultural/faith norms and in a fast moving and steady paced environment. 

That is something of the context in which I find myself fulfilling the call to be attentive to the presence of God. Attentiveness is vital in the role of university chaplaincy. Being able to read the various situations one finds oneself in and often having to contribute to decision making that falls way outside what one would consider the Priestly task is all about viewing the world of the University through a different lens – ensuring that the whole development of the student is a life building and changing experience rooted in the self as whole. Naturally like those engaged in other forms of ministry and support the demands are too varied and often just too much! Individual student and staff contact, management team meetings, policy development and research all eat away at that precious attentive task.

I suppose it’s rather Benedictine to suggest that although at times these tasks are tiresome, they are of themselves prayer and presence. Somehow infiltrating the institutional structures in a slightly subversive manner to do your bit to ensure the care and development of the individual spiritually, academically and socially. All this is often undertaken out of sight of most people both within the University and The Diocese. It is a ministry of shadows – offering an ever presence without always being able to be physically present. (This is particularly true at London Metropolitan University with several campus sites to cover and 17,000 students or so with all students living off-site). It is a ministry of self-realisation – reading the context in all its complexity and realising that it isn’t possible to effect or affect as one may desire. A humbling Ministry as one struggles to create a legitimacy for chaplaincies existence both inward and to the wider Church. A ministry that relies upon a deep seated prayer life and daily sacramental encounter be that through The sacraments or in touching the lives of fellow humankind. 

 

Fr Craig – Lead Chaplain c.barber@londonmet.ac.uk