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Vocation. Inspiration. Transformation. 19 March 2013

Posted by Dr Moose in Chaplaincy, Church, Faith, Life, Ponderings, Theology, University.
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As most of my regular readers must have realised by now, I love my job. To be a University Chaplain is, for me, certainly at the moment, the best thing I could be. On the day when the Western Church remembers the faithfulnes of Joseph, called to be the foster-father of Jesus, and a day when the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the inauguraion of Pope Francis, called to be as a Father to that part of the Church (and “Bishop of Rome” to my more Protestant colleagues and friends), I am happy to simply be called to be University Chaplain.

I have plenty of friends, both of all faiths and none, who ask me every so often whether I would like to be something else (usually a bishop). The simple answer is “Actually, no.” That feeling of call may change, of course, and I could understand a call to a different university at some point in the long term, but not now. And, I cannot see any yearning as yet appearing to draw me back into parochial ministry. Of course, God, the University or other players might have other ideas. Nevertheless in the days between exchanging contracts for the buying of a house (as a first-time buyer in my mid-forties) and completing, any ideas about being anywhere else are rather far away!

That’s not to say that I couldn’t do more. I have been asked to consider, and have accepted, a post of Young Vocations Champion within the diocese. Despite the title, which sounds horribly New Labour, it is a recognition of parts of my ministry and attitude to it, a delight in seeing people whom the world (or the church, at least) thinks of as “young”, being challenged to discern whether God may be calling them into some form of Christian Ministry. (“Young”, by the way, at least as far as this diocese, and quite possibly the CofE, is concerned, means anyone under 45. Pope Francis, however, is “young” at 76, so there’s hope for us all!) It is good, and right and proper that I should be developing a niche as University Chaplain that serves the wider diocese and not just the institution (the diocese, after all, does pay a majority of my salary).

There is a danger, of course, associated with such development, in that there can be a blurring of the post (University Chaplain) with the individual (Dr Moose). The Church, after all, speaks in terms of vocation, calling, which includes the recognition of individual gifts and skills. Sadly this is too often lost amidst the wish list of qualities needed for a particular post. It reminds me of a conversation I had over ten years ago with the Bishop’s Secretary in the diocese where I was serving my curacy. She had worked for two former bishops before the one then (and now, as he is still in post). The first had come to the post, bringing his own interests, and added them to the existing portfolio of roles and expectations. This is perfectly normal and natural. He left, and was replaced in due course by his successor. Manfully inheriting the job, he too added his items in accords with his priorities. And, of course in the fulness of time, he moved on, to be replaced by bishop number three. Bishop Three quite naturally came with his own topics of note, and added them to the role. All well and good, except nothing had been dropped from the role along the way, and the task was getting bigger and bigger. In a world of increasing expectations it begs the question of what is needed, and what may be desireable to one party, but not to the one expected to fulifil it. I can only hope that the new Pope can find a way to do the same in his minstry!

I am finding appropriate secondary, or maybe tertiary, avenues for myself as a dicoesan employee, a Chaplain, which is good. But what about me within the institution, the University? I might not think of myself as an academic, but as the holder of a PhD (in Geography) I sit on Research Ethics Committee, and whether I realise it or not I am a (theoretically) visible source of authority on Theology. I have written here before about my tendency to belittle my theological nous, although even yesterday I was asked to provide some “on record” thoughts for a radio journalism student’s piece on euthanasia, while on Thursday I have a appointment with a student wanting to talk about “semiotics, signs and symbols of christianity” (sic). The last time I did anything on that was during my Theology degree, circa 1998! (Perhaps I need to find my notes!)

One thing that the excellent conversations I had with my Russian Orthodox colleague over a rare lunch today revealed was a need for greater academic engagement, preferably theological rather than geographical. Somewhere (but I can’t remember where) I have commented upon the University’s advertising slogan. “University isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself”. I have expressed a certain amount of unhappiness, since the word ‘education’ derives from the Latin and is usally interpreted as being about “drawing out” that which is within you, your God-given (or ‘natural’, if you prefer) talents and skills. I asked what he thought about it, and, as so often happens, got a completely different interpretation! A key principle of Christian faith is that of theosis. It’s not a common word, but it simply means the process of becoming more God-like. A word more commonly used is derived from the Latin (again), rather than the Greek, sanctification, the process of becoming more holy, and since God is holy, becoming more like God. (For example, Leviticus 11:44a, is but one statement of the principle, “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy….”). Seen in that light and understanding university (and life in general) as part of the process of creation, or maybe more correctly re-creation, of the divine image and the whole slogan is transformed… and since the Uni tagline is “Transformed. Inspired“, and to be inspired is to literally be “spirit-filled”…

In need that sort of stimulation and discussion. And it doesn’t simply come from forcing myself to read. It comes from engagement, and not the sort of engagement you might get in most churches on a Sunday morning!

The conversations also highlighted other possibilities too. Fr Timothy is not only an Orthodox Priest and Lecturer, he is well up on Social Entrepreneurship and related subjects. He has been part of a team at Uni involved in the succesful move to achieve coveted Changemaker Campus status for the University. I’m running out of time (and energy) to do this justice, but this is big stuff, even if the awarding body AshokaU sounds like an Indian University when in reality it’s an American programme. I’m still trying to get to grips with what it might mean myself, but that’s for another day.



1. Jane Williams - 19 March 2013

Your opinion of your ability in theology reminds me of a conversation I had with another friend recently when I asked him why he’d endorsed me for a skill on LinkedIn. As far as I was concerned, I knew very little about it – in fact, I knew just enough to know how much I didn’t know. It seems that while this might well be true, the amount I *did* know would have got me a job as a competent practitioner in his office. Don’t compare yourself with the top ten authorities in the world on the subject, try thinking in terms of being a useful source of information for others (which you obviously are), and it all comes back into proportion.

By the way, might I suggest writing down somewhere a list of what your job entails at the moment, and what you’ve chosen to add to it? Someday, your replacement will thank you for it. Yes, OK, so I’m a web developer, and I’m thinking “requirement spec.” and “scope creep”, but systems analysis is still systems analysis when applied to people, as well as to computers.

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