Theological Reflections on Mission and Ministry

in a Secular Context:


Higher Education Experience in Canada and the United Kingdom

Rev Dr Angus Stuart - formerly Senior Anglican Chaplain, University of Bristol


Introduction: Higher Education Chaplaincy - A Secular Context

When I entered higher education chaplaincy (with 13 years pre-ordination experience in higher education) the job was perceived to be a secular ministry in contrast to a parish or church based ministry, which consisted primarily of pastoring a flock. There was a sense that I would be on the edge - of operating outside or beyond the Church (and yet still of it). There was a sense that the work would be mission-oriented and in some sense evangelistic.

I would want to say that all of that is true. But I see no reason why this should be different from the way we do all ministry at this time, in this place and context - ie in the UK in the late twentieth century. We are all operating in a secular context - we are all working and ministering in the world and so there is a sense in which all ministry
and not just sector ministries should be seen as secular ministry.

The point is: the specific experience of higher education chaplaincy has wider relevance for ministry as a whole in any context - and context is always secular (by definition). In other words, chaplaincy is not a distraction from the real work; on the contrary, chaplaincy ministry has valuable lessons to teach about ministry as a whole.

Recognizing the secularity of ministry has an impact on what we are trying to do and how we do it. And this is derived from and motivated by why we are doing it and a sense of who we think we are (in relation to the world/secular context). Clearly this raises (theological) questions about our mission and ministry (taken together as what & how) and about church (ecclesiology - identity - centred on who & why).

The remainder of this paper is divided into five sections:
1. My own vision for HE ministry - what I think I am about ... (what)
2. Illustrative examples out of my own experience (how)
3. What I did in Canada, who I saw and what I was asking them (what & how)
4. What I learned in Canada in the Summer of 1997 - similarities - new perspectives
5. A specific example to focus questions and discussion
6. Some pointers for the why and who questions - ecclesiology - the church in the world


My vision of HE Chaplaincy

WHAT I think chaplaincy is all about. Basically this can be conceived as two-fold:
* REACTIVE / PASTORAL

* PROACTIVE / PROPHETIC
The Chaplaincy in the University occupies a similar position and plays a similar role to that of the Church in the world - but in microcosm. The role is both pastoral and prophetic: pastoral in terms of responding to the particular needs and situations of staff and students; prophetic in the sense of seeking to stir the spiritual imagination of the University - to raise the BIG questions of life-the-universe-and-everything and get them on to peoples agendas ... and keep them there. The role of the Chaplain is therefore both reactive and proactive.

HOW I see this occurring in practice (two more P-words):
* PRESENCE: both passive & active, responding & initiating, peripheral & imersed, church & world and interpreting between each of these

* PRAYER: a work in itself: praying for the life and community of the University.
And these two aspects can be seen to be linked together through the priestly nature of the work:
PRIESTLY
Being with the people on behalf of God = PRESENCE
Being with God on behalf of the people = PRAYER
Already I hope it will be apparent that this is a vision of mission and ministry which is not restricted to chaplaincy or other sector ministries but is applicable to the position and purpose of the church in the world.




Some illustrations from my own experience....

Please note this is specific to the set-up in Bristol - there is a wide diversity in the pattern of chaplaincy even within the UK, as well as outlook & vision for chaplaincy. (There is probably even more diversity in terms of expectations on chaplains ....)
* (Ecumenical) Chaplaincy Centre
various Christian student groups
see students and staff
administrative base
base out of which we work
* Halls of Residence
wardens and tutors
hall fellowship groups
* Students Union
union executive
campaigns
Student Advisor (+ other staff)
Clubs & Socs eg. UJS, Buddhist, Amnesty ...
Student Community Action
* Departments
academic (heads, lecturers, tutors etc)
admin - Senate House
* Committees (within University structure)
Student Services
Overseas students welfare
Joint Committee with the Union
* Worship
weekly in University Anglican Church of St Paul, Clifton (Sunday)
daily in St Pauls (morning and evening prayer)
weekly in Wills Hall Chapel (Sunday)
daily in the Chaplaincy (Mon Eucharist, Tue-Fri midday prayer)
* Events
Beginning of Session Service in Bristol Cathedral
Degree Ceremonies
Thanksgiving in Anatomy Department
Memorials, weddings, baptisms
crises ....
The University of Bristol, like many Higher Education institutions in the UK, has expanded dramatically in recent years and now (in 1997) has about 12,000 students (undergraduate and postgraduate), in addition to this there are 4,700 staff - lecturers, administrators, librarians, technicians, domestic and support staff. So our parish population is in the region of 17,000.

Seeking to minister to this population is a Chaplaincy team consisting of two full-time Anglican Chaplains, one Roman Catholic and a Free Church Chaplain working on a half-time basis. An Eastern Orthodox Chaplain is spread over a number of Higher Education Institutions and also has a parish church; and the Orthodox Jewish Chaplain - one of seven in the UK - covers all Universities in south-west Great Britain including south Wales and England west of Oxford. In addition a number of local Free Church ministers who are involved in student work have links with the Chaplaincy.

The base of operations is the Ecumenical Chaplaincy Centre with facilities for various groups to meet and pray. Various student groups hold lunchtime meetings here and there is daily prayer at 12.15pm and a weekly Eucharist on Mondays. The Centre is open 10am - 4pm each weekday for students and staff to drop for a coffee break, a chat, to pray or just to get some peace and quiet. Most people who drop in are familiar faces but every so often somebody drops in out of the blue or phones up wanting to speak to a vicar.

Being available in this way is part of the reactive, or pastoral, role of the Chaplain - responding to peoples needs and situations as they present themselves. But this is only a part of the work. A much greater proportion of our time is spent in being proactive - getting out there and meeting the people - networking. People do ring up or drop-in to speak to a Chaplain they have never seen before, but much more contact comes by people knowing who we are and seeing us about involved in the everyday life of the University community.

So our work takes us out and about into the University - visiting academic and administrative departments and meeting staff, into the Students Union co-operating where possible with the Union especially on welfare issues, involvement amongst the various clubs and societies - and not just the Christian ones ... eg one Chaplain is involved in the University Balloon Club, another in the Womens Group and we try become involved with the Societies of other faiths (eg the Jewish Society; the Buddhist Society) engaging in dialogue to build up understanding and break down barriers of fear and prejudice.

We do, of course, also have a part to play in the various denominational Christian Societies as well as participating and co-operating with the Christian Union wherever possible. University is a very formative time, a time of thinking about the course ones life is to take and for Christian students the key question to be faced at some point is: what does God want me to do with my life? For some, there is an apparently clear career path mapped out ... others are specifically wondering whether they should be involved in some form of full-time ministry, either short-term or long-term, for a few this may be Ordination. Chaplains have an important part to play not only in helping students think, talk and pray through the issues but also by being role models - walking adverts for the Ordained ministry.

Much work also takes place in the nine Halls of Residence - mostly in evenings - meeting students over dinner, in the bar, visiting students, attending social events and being available to students and hall tutors who may want to talk, either formally or informally - much more pastoral work seems to get done informally. The contact with hall tutors highlights another aspect of the Chaplains role: that of supporting others involved in pastoral work - in halls it is the tutors and wardens who are on the front-line with many pastoral situations, similarly with academic staff in departments: Chaplains often find themselves at one remove from a pastoral situation giving support and advice to those who are directly involved.

The more prophetic aspects of the work include involvement in various committees within the University and in seeking to constructively engage with the relevant issues - either to do with the University itself or with Higher Education generally. The Staff Christian Forum is one group which specifically brings staff together to explore the links between our faith and our work - allowing the one to inform the other. This very much epitomizes the role of the Chaplaincy in the University: bringing faith into the workplace - helping people to make the links and to discover and deepen faith.
Some would want to say of our presence in the University that we are in the University but not of it - echoing the biblical in the world but not of it - a necessary and helpful distinction up to a point. But only up to a point. I believe we need to go beyond that point and recognize that we are indeed part of the world and take a less judgmental, more affirming approach to the worlds in which we live.


What I was doing in Canada this summer ...


My visit to Canada in the summer of 1997 presented an opportunity to meet chaplains in a different (but not unrecognizably different) setting, to get some perspective, some new light on what I am doing. It was a chance to see what is being done elsewhere, to affirm my own work, develop new ways of looking at things (generally and specifically) and perhaps to encounter things to react against. Things somehow seem more interesting in different setting/context and often one sees things one might otherwise miss.

To this end I set-up a series of wide ranging informal talks with chaplains of different denominations in various institutions - talks based loosely around 3 questions:
1. WHAT did they think they were doing - ie WHY chaplaincy?
2. HOW were they going about it - WHAT exactly they were doing.
Notice the word WHAT occurs in the first two questions in two different senses and this is symptomatic of the fact the questions tended to flow into each other and the discussions we had were very much unstructured. This fluidity is reflected in the account that follows.

WHO did I see?

18 chaplains in 10 institutions (8 in Ontario and 2 in Montreal, Quebec)
5 Catholics (4 priests, 1 lay)
4 Ecumenical (Anglican/Presbyterian/United)
2 Anglicans
2 Presbyterians
5 Anglican (4 in Anglican institutions)
2 United Church of Canada
2 Christian Reformed
Of the 10 institutions:
4 secular
4 denominational (Anglican) colleges in secular universities
1 Catholic foundation (taken over by government in 1965)
1 United Church foundation (originally Methodist)
Many similarities with UK universities ... In set up - mostly the chaplains are employed by the churches and the infrastructure provided by the institution - even in the secular universities (UWO, Brock, McMaster, and Guelph providing the accommodation, or as in McGill by renting part of the Newman Center (the Catholic Chaplaincy) for the Chaplaincy (= Campus Ministry) as a whole). Only 3 of the chaplains were employed by their institution: Ottawa (Catholic), Queens (United), and Trinity College (Anglican), Toronto (endowment) - all denominational foundations.

There were also similarities in encountering teams of chaplains with varying time commitments and outlook and understanding of what chaplaincy work is about.
There were similarities too in universities facing cut-backs in government spending and having to explore alternative sources of funding (eg Coca Cola at UWO) - raising questions about the setting of research agendas and intellectual freedom.
There were similarities in the increasing financial and academic pressures on students.
 
WHAT is chaplaincy about?

As might be expected: answers varied. Not always clearly articulated, sometimes deliberately vague. Sometimes I got the impression that the question was quite a challenge - but one that was appreciated, part of the mutuality of our conversations.
The view that chaplaincy/campus ministry is NOT about prosyletization was a recurrent theme - especially in the secular institutions and this is made explicit in universities such as McGill (Montreal) and Guelph where non-prosyletization was enshrined in a protocol, adherence to which was a condition of being recognized by the university as a chaplain - this resulted in some tension with other Christian organizations which were not prepared to accept such a protocol. Notwithstanding this, there was a sense in which various traditions eg Anglicanism at the University of Western Ontario, in London were there to be experienced.

One of the most refreshing perspectives, for me, came from an Anglican Chaplain whose outlook is one of very much going with the flow, dialoguing with the world. Finding God in it. He uses the image of the city (following Jacques Ellul, The Meaning of the City): in Genesis the city of Babel is very much a symbol of human rebellion against God but ultimately this is redeemed by God and we have the vision of the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, presented in Revelation (see also Religion in the Secular City: Toward a Post Modern Theology by Harvey Cox). Robert talked about the need to discern the work of the Spirit - see what God is doing and go with it. That is primary, what we do is secondary. Relax! he said to me as we walked along the hot city street on a bright, sunny, summers afternoon in the pleasant pastures of the University. A world affirming approach - where possible.

He talked about the importance of the witness by physical presence - very visible in the structure and life of the College Chapel. And the Church foundation College itself within the secular University. A distinctive, unambiguous presence.

For another Chaplain in another University, Campus Ministry is very much about developing a Christian community within the University - another sort of presence, a presence of people living, working, worshipping together. A physical presence. A human presence.

Building community is also very important for another Chaplain (also an Anglican priest (British!) employed by the three denominations as an ecumenical chaplain in a secular university). For her the type of community she is talking about is very much mission work: to people on the fringes of the organized churches - often on their way out or their way in. People for whom the organized churches are not relevant - people who have perhaps experienced alienation from the traditional churches. It is mission work to the unchurched and those who have fallen away.

In this view, denominations are increasingly seen as irrelevant (cf post-denominational ideas of eg Matthew Fox) - irrelevant both in terms of the way of working in Campus Ministry (ecumenical and increasingly inter-faith) and in terms of the people to whom this ministry is directed - ie those outside the churches.

The ministry is not about holding the hands of young members of Presbyterian/ Baptist/Anglican churches and ensuring that they continue to attend church. Rather it is more about self-discovery, personal development, spirituality and working through questions of faith and doubt. (This is in contrast to her colleagues role as Roman Catholic Chaplain ministering within a more clearly defined pastoral community - both his view as well as hers).

It is mission work, it is evangelism, but not in a formal or strict sense of preaching the gospel - more is done without words. It demands a liberal outlook - in a clearly defined not woolly sense. Rather it calls for Biblical (evangelical) liberalism - derived from the Gospel of Jesus of setting the captives free and Pauls Gospel of freedom from the law.

This is clearly much more radical and therefore potentially dangerous and threatening to the institutional churches - as well as refreshing and liberating. It clearly challenges the perceptions of chaplaincy being about denominational church presence on campus - its more general: about Christian and, wider, faith presence on campus (cf the inter-faith profile of the Campus Ministry Team at Guelph - includes Hindu, Jewish and Muslim chaplains as well as Christians).

Building community is also an important aspect of the work at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. For the Chaplain I spoke to there this has been seen (in the first year of her job) mainly in terms of bringing the various Christian groups together - in particular the leaders. She has come into a situation where there has been tension and disunity in the past. She is also involved in various committees within the University structure - seeking to build community within the University. Networking is very important in her ministry and she has a vision of Christians in the University to be leaven in the lump - bringing benefit to the whole community.

A distinctive approach is taken at the University of Ottawa - a Catholic foundation with 40% French speaking - where the chaplaincy has been renamed Resources spirituelles (Spiritual Resources) to better reflect what he believes they are about. The Chaplain is a Catholic priest based in the church adjacent to the University but he is the Coordonnateur (Co-ordinator) of Resources spirituelles rather than Chaplain. He argues that the new name represents a new outlook and one that is not necessarily Christian - an unusual approach for a Catholic priest working in a Catholic University, and one that is illustrated in the fact that two out of the four students who are employed part time to act as administrative assistants are Muslims (three out of the four are from Africa, three out of the four are women).

Resources spirituelles is very much integrated into (and seen as a part of) student services within the University (as is the case with Campus Ministry in other Canadian universities I visited). Some of the student services at Ottawa were formerly performed by the chaplaincy (as it was) eg the Peer helping scheme (providing mutual help and support amongst students). This is now student run but the Chaplain remains available when needed - the student services also appeared to be much more integrated with the Student Federation (= Students Union) than is the case elsewhere (and certainly in contrast to the UK experience).

As I said, the questions concerning the what and the how of chaplaincy tended to run into each other, and the divide is somewhat artificial, but I want to turn now more to the how aspects ....

How did the chaplains go about chaplaincy/campus ministry?

Staying with the University of Ottawa but turning to the Anglican Chaplain, who is the local parish priest and dedicates one day per week to university work. He works mainly with Anglican students and tries to give them a parish/church base but he is prepared to work with others. His time is limited but it seems to be well used. He is very keen to get students and staff to make the links between their faith and their work - too often, he believes, this is perceived only as making time for prayer and other religious activity within an otherwise secular life. (An artificial sacred/secular divide). He is keen to help people integrate things more: eg how does being a Christian affect the way you do economics etc? He is putting together fortnightly (maybe weekly) Lent lecture series by faculty for students and staff along the lines of: If this were the last lecture I could give ... what would I say as a Christian?
Chaplains are also involved in formal programmes and have produced a number of workshops in response to specific requests which are then recycled in new contexts. Much wedding preparation is also done amongst students and staff - some of which involves very creative liturgy drawing in a wide variety of traditions, including Native American - again responding to the needs of people for whom the traditional churches have not proved to be satisfactory.

There was a range of approaches in terms of involvement within the university structures. I have already mentioned the leaven in the lump, community-building approach. A key quote along these lines: Ministry begins with identification. The first step in ministry is identifying with people, building relations, winning trust. Hence a very participative approach to the life of the university, taking a full part in its structures and committees and so on. The idea of loitering with intent.'

In contrast, a diametrically opposite approach is taken by a Christian Reformed chaplain of Dutch origin elsewhere. A man who cuts the figure of an Old Testament prophet with his long grey beard, balding on top but with a grey pony-tail, wearing shorts, open neck shirt and sandals. The look is borne out by his approach: forthright. Unashamedly anti-establishment and therefore not interested in being involved in committees and the running of university life (although I understand he has had some involvement in the past). He takes an adversarial approach to the world and secular society. He sees his primary role as to get people to think, he is there to challenge.
He is not interested in large numbers - he prefers to work with small groups of diverse people, mainly more mature students and post-graduates. He works almost exclusively with students - his involvement with faculty focuses on the support given to him by various sympathetic professors. He is very much influenced by the Sojourners community in Washington DC (Jim Wallis et al) - world views are of primary importance.

A very specific approach is taken by a lay-Chaplain at Brock University who works two days a week in the chaplaincy as co-ordinator of Justice and Peace Programs - funded by the Roman Catholic church. Effectively she works as a chaplaincy assistant (or lay chaplain) but with a specific area of responsibility and initiative. She does a lot of work with others in the University who have related concerns, and also with others outside the University. Again, her work involves much bridge-building, forging links and networking.

The main obstacle to her work that she identifies is apathy (related in part to the increasing pressures on students in terms of work load and finance). But in part at least this obstacle is the very thing she is trying to address in seeking to broaden-out concerns, dispel ignorance of the world and wider issues.

I want now to turn to the main obstacles chaplains encountered in their work.

What are the main obstacles to campus ministry/chaplaincy?

Some obstacles were articulated such as apathy or the ignorance of religious ideas which, it could be argued are in a sense part of the proper object and work of campus ministry - a motivating and educative role of chaplaincy within Higher Education.
Other problems were associated with the changing face of higher education and the constituent institutions. For example, the changing structure of the year with the option of studying for four months and then working for four months - putting a degree together in stages, earning the funding where necessary. Such an approach tends to undermine the development of community amongst students at university - one of the key things chaplains said they were trying to build. Or again, the closing down of university refectories and instead selling franchises to fast-food outlets (as is the case at UWO, London) changes the character of the campus - again detracting from the sense of community.

But by far the most commonly, and most strongly, articulated obstacle to the work of chaplains in campus ministry, was the lack of understanding on the part of the wider church and its authority/administrative structures and their vision (or lack of it) for campus ministry (it's not real ministry or that it's about getting people into the Anglican - or whatever - church) and the consequent lack of (or diminishing) support for the work amongst the churches. This is most critically reflected in the funding of campus ministry which has been progressively cut-back.

The two wholly diocesan funded Anglican chaplains have clearly had problems and the future of their posts is far from assured as and when they move on. Where there is a shortage of money there has been a tendency for what are perceived to be peripheral ministries to be cut.

Those who are employed one way or another by their institutions have faired better. Though even at Ottawa where the Chaplain is employed by the University, a colleague who recently died is not being replaced. (And as we saw, the Anglican chaplain is only there one day per week). At Queens University at Kingston, Ontario a Chaplain is employed as the University Chaplain (he is a United Church minister). Formerly directly accountable to the Head of the University, the chaplain is now, following re-organization, part of student services (as in the most of the other universities) and located in the Physical Education Building (probably something about keeping body and soul together). This works well with much co-operation between the various services including, for example, joint training with the counselling service. The strategy to safeguard the position of the University Chaplain appears to be to make himself (and therefore the role) indispensable through involvement in the life of the University. Not just in the University but of it too - theres a stake in it, something of oneself and ones faith committed and invested. Another strategy alongside this has been the building up of inter-faith work (with the Inter Faith Council) - this makes the position of the chaplaincy within the University more acceptable, less exclusive, and therefore much stronger. If faith is promoted across the board, it makes life easier for each of the individual faiths - including Christianity.

The four ecumenical chaplains represent a fresh and creative approach to campus ministry but this has been borne of necessity through funding cut-backs and they continually have to devote energy towards fund-raising from their sponsoring churches - though this isnt necessarily to be seen as a bad thing if it promotes understanding and ownership of the ministry by the wider church. One Chaplain I spoke to has had a major job on to convince his sponsors to continue his funding - this has diverted energy from other work but he views it as a valuable exercise in relating the work of the chaplaincy to that of the wider church. This parallels his approach of seeking to help people to relate their study and faith together, what he calls the academic aspect of his work alongside the pastoral aspect.

But his approach is relatively conservative (and within a conservative denomination), the key question for the ecumenical chaplains, taking a more radical, less denominationally specific approach, remains can the church (churches?) come to a sufficient understanding of what is going on beyond its bounds - and is it prepared to own it ... to commit ... to invest? A major challenge and one which must be faced, as indeed I believe it is being faced, with energy, imagination and commitment.
The one chaplain with no funding problems is the Chaplain in a Church-foundation College within a secular University where the chaplaincy is supported by an endowment. He is in the enviable position of being able to relax, go with the flow, dialogue with the world, discern the work of the Spirit, see what God is doing and go with it. He has the freedom and yet, paradoxically, he occupies the most unambiguous position of all those I spoke to, as the Chaplain of an Anglican college within a secular university, funded as he is independently of both the church and institutional structures.


Towards a Conclusion: The Church in the World - a case to consider ...


To conclude this paper and to lead into some pointers for the way ahead in terms of our identity as the church in the world, and our motivation for mission and ministry in the post-modern (post-christian) world (our secular context), I want to present the case of a Chaplain in a remote area whom I attempted (unsuccessfully) to contact before I went to Canada and whom I did not get to meet. However we communicated regularly with each other by e-mail in the weeks following my return culminating in the following (edited) message:



Message 5/65 Nov 13, 97 11:33:15 am +0000
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 1997 11:33:15 +0000 (*)
Subject: Re: your letter
To: "AF. Stuart"
Angus
All these questions. What a great buzz coming to the office knowing you are already there.

continued....

The 'circle', I'm sure you are aware, is present in most world living religions - Even Disney's 'The Lion King' played on the circle of life theme. Our First Nations peoples have been working hard to reclaim identity and dignity, once stripped away in the name of God, and Euro-centric betterment. Of the elders, teachers, and medicine people I have had the honour to learn from, not one has claimed that God and modern innovation is wrong or evil. Rather it was in the western culture's oppressive forcing of such ideals that caused the stripping of identity and dignity.... These same elders who hold no malice or ill will towards me have encouraged and invited me to participate as an Anglican/Christian priest to take part in ritual, story, sharing and fun - as I am.

In 1995 I went to the Yukon to attend a spiritual gathering of Christian and native spiritual leaders. I spent one week on the side of a mountain with mostly first nation people, at a healing lodge remote from any village - Ya! There were bears and eagles, and moose and Caribou all around; and I only saw a bunny rabbit. I told the leader that, and he laughed then got real serious - he said the rabbit is the sign of abundant living, if there are rabbits around then there will be food for the larger animals - the circle of life - the food chain - quite simple. Then I asked how I can escape and do this stuff the rest of my life. He said I should see that the rabbit was teaching me that I need to be humble, unassuming, feeding, and gentle - "I don't need no more Indians" he said, "I need a good Anglican Priest in Copper Cliff, 3000 miles away". I walked away thinking the journey was in vain; yet through the time since the gathering his words have haunted me .... He, an outsider, blessed me and commissioned me to do that which I had already been called. He, an outsider had taught me how to live out my work. He, who had been a product of an abusive 'Residential School', saw something in my religion and spirituality that he could affirm, and he just went ahead and did it.

As I left the Yukon, I was given Smudge (a native form of liturgical incense) that is medicine to those who use it in faith, and an eagle feather, a sign of strength, leadership and vision. I was asked to use these gifts in our christian circle and to remember their healing circle when we pray. They were honoured that I travelled 3000 miles to learn from them - I was honoured in that they had a free gift of the creator's blessing that many of our Christian people have forgotten how to impart. I use these gifts in most celebrations, but very discretely - no person is forced to partake or acknowledge a foreign God. At the college, we have several native students who are quite at home with these gifts, and now the whole Sunday evening service waits with anticipation for the celebration/ceremony to gather us into our circle. The chapel is designed in a way that bringing the furnishings into a real circle is very easily done.

The Service:
We begin with personal greeting to every person who enters followed by a brief collect type prayer, not necessarily the collect for the day. We typically read two of the appointed four lessons (there have been times when the gospel was not read, as there were focal points in two other readings that the community wished to discuss. Following the readings I usually give a brief theme talk and invite discussion. The discussion is prefaced by a reminder that this is sacred and holy time and space, and that whatever we bring to it is not debatable, or used to control others in or out of the circle, but rather the safety to reflect and/or ask questions about whatever. Many evenings the discussion has everything to do with the feeling and happenings of the residence - and you know, that's really cool stuff. Following discussion we pray in this fashion. We light the smudge on a ceremony stone, then cleanse the feather through the smoke; I pass the stone in front of all people in the circle and the people draw the smoke to themselves as a ritual act of cleansing, healing and belonging to the community. I pray first holding the feather, usually for the world, peace, our country, the church, the university, then ourselves. I then pass the feather to the person immediately to my left (the direction of the sun), and invite people to pray in their own tradition and comfort. Some pray out loud, some are silent, all are given an opportunity to hold the feather and pray. We then pass peace to one another and sing something people like - lately people have requested 'One of Us' by the American singer Joan Osborne - thank god they are done with Peter Pumpkinhead (XTC). We gather around the Altar (no matter how many are present - we have had up to thirty) and share in the celebration of the eucharist; we distribute by feeding one another, again in the direction of the sun. During the receiving I get to play church music I like - specifically Taizé (Ubi Caritas, Eat this Bread, Wait for the Lord). After the Eucharist. one of the students selected randomly says thank you for the meal. Then many of us stick around to talk, smoke cigarettes, laugh, or watch the Simpsons (a popular cartoon for adults).

It has taken six years of energy, planning, teaching and frustration to build this model into place. Unfortunately a lot of it hinges on me because students come and go, but chaplains just seem to grow old - the question: how do we keep new, proactive and excited? I'm sure there are a lot of short term solutions, but nothing to vision out the future.

Angus, I have said a lot, I hope this is somewhat a clearer picture of what it is that I am doing.
Take good care.


This Chaplain is working in a very different secular context, but one which throws valuable light on our identity in terms of the relationship of the Church with and in, and in a sense of, the world. To me this represents an exciting, heady mixture of cultures - bringing together Native American smudge and prayer circles along with The Simpsons and late twentieth century North America all in association with, and even in the context of, a Christian Eucharist. All begging the question what does it mean to be a Christian, an Anglican even, in this particular secular context? and at the same time going some way towards answering that question. My only sadness is that I havent got there to see it. Yet.

Some may want to question what is going on in terms of orthodox Christian belief and practice - or indeed at other places I did get to visit ... or even Bristol - but it strikes me that vital Christianity has always been a faith which, if it is to survive, has sought to engage with the world in which it finds itself. Not only challenging the prevailing world views and cultures but borrowing from them, reinterpreting and in so doing redefining both itself and, in the long run, the culture of which becomes a part ... again. And so the circle continues.

The challenge to the Church(es) concerns the location of our identity and self-definition (WHO). Whether this is in our ecclesiastical culture or something deeper to do with our theological understanding. To an extent it is both: Anglicans, for example, are clearly identifiable by what they do and how they do it as well as by what they believe. To an extent these are linked (hopefully) - WHAT and HOW being dependent on the WHY - but the what and how are likely to vary not only according to the theological why but according to the cultural context within which we are not only situated and in dialogue with but of which we are a part.

For me, being an Anglican is not so much about Anglican history, or about establishment, or even about the Anglican Churchs English roots- though clearly all of those have some relevance. The thing that is distinctive about Anglicanism for me is its relationship to society - the understanding of parishes as opposed to congregations. Clearly establishment has had its part to play in this, though this is not defining - the Anglican Church of Canada is not established. And in some ways that may raise questions of identity for Canadian Anglicans - especially as the ties with England recede as first generation immigrants form a decreasing proportion of Church membership. It appears that there may be two ways to go, not necessarily polarities but certainly in tension: One is to consciously define the Church according to Anglican tradition, our ecclesiastical culture, in much the way the Episcopalian Church of the USA has done - retaining a clearly identifiable public image whilst loosening ties with British culture and roots. The other is to take the spirit of Anglicanism and allow that to redefine liturgical practice in its interaction with local culture and tradition much as the Chaplain who e-mailed me from the remote area of Ontario is doing. As I say, these are not mutually exclusive, retaining a distinctive Anglican liturgical tradition may well be part of the dialogue with local culture, but clearly there is a tension.
So what? So what to conclude - given that this is not the last word ... the debates continue and not least my own theological and spiritual development. If I were to identify just three of the many things I have brought away with me from the experiences I had in Canada they would be these:

[1] A renewed courage and inspiration to engage with the culture of which I am a part at the University of Bristol - a renewed desire to interpret my faith to the world in which I live and the world in which I live to the Church of which I am a part.
[2] Springing from this, a renewed commitment to building the bridges between University Chaplaincy ministry and the wider ministry of the Church (Anglican and ecumenically) both in terms of the wider Church identifying and owning the ministry that is being done on its behalf in Higher Education and gaining insights from that specific ministry for the practice of its mission and ministry as a whole.
[3] A desire to return to Canada again - a land which I had never visited before but which strangely felt like home ....