Wednesday, November 25, 2009

#savesotonchap Why The Chaplaincy at the University of Southampton is a Fresh Expression

Last night my virus ridden body was jerked sharply into action by a leaflet put through the door.

It was about the "Fresh Expression" work the Diocese of Winchester is doing in the area. It would seem that these leaflets were put through the door of every house in the diocese.

The irony. The diocese are cutting the budget across the board due to their huge deficit. The Canon Missioner listed on the back of the leaflet will be made redundant if the latest budget is passed.

What really got me is that the community at the Chaplaincy at the University of Southampton is a "Fresh Expression" by their criteria! From their website:

"Fresh Expressions encourages new forms of church for a fast changing world, working with Christians from a variety of denominations and traditions..

As we encourage new forms of church for those who are not already members of any church, we also want to consolidate all that has been achieved in terms of major projects and policy changes at national level."

and from their resource website , a Fresh Expression is:
  • missional – serving people outside church;
  • incarnational – listening to people and entering their culture;
  • educational – making discipleship a priority;
  • ecclesial – forming church.
and Fresh Expressions matter because:

"Fresh expressions reach out to a changing society. Lots of changes have created a new cultural mood, to which fresh expressions try to respond. Among these changes:

  • people have been turning away from external rules, duties and obligations. They are more into relationships and experiences;
  • networks feature more strongly in their lives than traditional institutions;
  • diversity has shot up the agenda. People prefer personalised approaches to one-size-fits-all."

From all this we learn that the church is encouraging communities that don't fit our modern view of traditional church. These movements should be about personal relationships, developing from listening to people and engaging with their culture. They should lead to the formation of a worshipping community and help people to be good disciples.

You would think therefore, that the church would be encouraging the work of the chaplaincy at the University of Southampton. It's not a traditional style church. It's a community of students lead by the chaplains. The way the community is organised and run has changed over time from listening carefully to the students who are regular members and from observing the wider student culture at the University of Southampton. There is a large RC worshipping community, and a growing protestant one. Chaplaincy community members are encouraged to love their fellow students in the way that the community loves them. The Chaplaincy is missional in that it serves the students and staff of the University whether they are of faith or not.

Let us consider some case studies:

My own chaplaincy story sees me meeting the Chaplain in the pub at a karaoke evening in the students union, having read his blog and received his e-newsletters. This ticks the engaging in student culture box and use of modern technology to reach people. Then I went for a cup of tea at the Chaplaincy having been personally invited. So relational and personal. I was invited back again and again, and gradually became part of the community. As I felt more comfortable there I started going to the wednesday communion service and I started acting to show the radical love and hospitality I had recieved to other people as best I could. This included volunteering to help at Chaplaincy Events.

The Big Breakfast is a freshers welcome event which has been run for the last few years and developed from a meeting of the Chaplaincy Student Council where the goal was to create an event that would raise the profile of the Chaplaincy and create opportunities for the Chaplaincy to engage with new students and reconnect with existing staff and students. A team of student volunteers cooked breakfast for hundreds of students at the princely sum of £1 each. All the money went to local charities. New students are usually hungry, sometimes hungover and maybe homesick. A hearty breakfast and a cup of tea provided  exactly what they needed. Each time this event has been a success, with all the visitors now knowing where the Chaplaincy is on campus, and seeing a handful of regulars added to the Chaplaincy community each time.

The recent Chaplaincy alumni like myself can tell you that it's a very different place from when we were there, which shows the Chaplaincy adjusting and changing as the community has changed. New things since I left university include a regular cake day where the never ending supply of tea is supplemented with volunteer baked cake. This can be eaten by anyone who happens to be in the building and again has produced opportunities for a conversation with people.

The biggest thing that sticks in my mind is that the community empowers it's members to do the nitty gritty work of loving the world. One time, all the chaplains were out and a distraught student came in looking to talk to one of them about her exam problems. Rather than just telling her to come back later, the students hanging out in the building, sat her down, made her a cup of tea and talked to her until she calmed down, and with her permission prayed for her. Or the time one of the community started having a panic attack in the pub when some of the chaplaincy students were at the pub quiz. They helped the student calm his breathing and escorted him to a safe place, all the while reassuring him and praying with him. 

And the diocese wants to stop funding this?

Posted via email from Alex E Jones

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