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Out of Hours Chaplaincy 23 April 2014

Posted by Dr Moose in Chaplaincy, Church, Faith, Life, University.
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In which the eagle-eyed reader may well notice another way in which this reflects the out of hours theme…

Funny things, English phrases, the way they can hide, reveal and suggest contradictory or misleading trains of though. Tale the title of this post for example.

In terms of service provision we may find ourselves speaking as out of hours meaning that time beyond the normally expected working time. It might carry with it implications of a different degree of provision, carried out by a different person (and with any associated memories of on-call doctors!)

On the other hand it may relate to us running out of time available for the fulfillment of a task. I’m sure you may think of some more (as might I, before I conclude the writing of this post)!

Certainly ruminating upon time, especially my own, is something I’m doing quite a bit of at the moment. It probably springs from the combination of the work I’m doing to get my contract renewed before it ends in several months, the time of year, both in the academic and the litrugical calendars, and the time of life as I approach a birthday in my mid-forties where I’m considering stopping counting the numbers in the vain hope that I can stave off the arrival of a more scary one. (Mid-life crisis, anyone? Whatever one of those is…)

At least at one level, the one set by the academic year, I am operating in something of an Out of Hours capacity. In some respects this time of year could be treated as a rehearsal, a preparation space, for Chaplaincy throughout the summer. Most people beyond the university environment, especially if they’ve never studied at one, seem to think that once the students (by which they mean the undergraduate students) have gone everything shuts down and we all go on holiday. This, of course, is not true. Many postgraduates remain, either being actively taught or pursuing their own research. Academic staff still need to do marking, preparation and their own research. Technical and Support staff (Professional Services) are still engaged, keeping the place running, catching up with what has past (the inevitable paper trail!) or making sure the events of the future can actually happen effectively (which makes the lack of communication over planning for welcoming, enrolling and housing new students in September slightly worrying!) In fact the university is only officially Closed for the two Bank Holidays and the Tuesday following this Easter.

There most definitely is, however, a distinct change of pace. The lengthening days stretching out the expected times of arrival for Muslim students and staff to use the prayer/quiet rooms are even more noticable as the number of users drops off (not that they celebrate Easter so much as have a break). There simply are fewer people on campus, at least in terms of passersby. While some may be taking leave and some academic staff may be working from home  Professional Services are still about (and it’s the ideal time to do short term refurbishment projects, for example, such as the coffee bar in the Library Foyer). The challenge for me as the University Chaplain is to work out how to use these times productively, or maybe I should say, wisely. While some of the details may be absolutely fascinating and engaging the actual process of reading postgraduate research submissions as part of the Research Ethics Committee is one of the things that I still have to do, even if it is an individual choice that happens to fit with skills and experience rather than a role that comes simply by being the University Chaplain (the fact that my own PhD needed no ethical clearance whatsoever is just a minor detail…) From the perspecive of looking at them in the quieter times I wonder how I manage to it in the more visibly busy ones!

Another thing I am continually having to remind myself about though is that part of the ministry I am employed to provide is about being available and visible. Theologically-speaking perhaps I’m here to be an icon of the divine, and a model of something different. A human being, rather than a human doing. Put it that way and I need to pay more attention to blogging, theological reflection and reading. To contiune to be formed and informed for and in ministry. I’m reminded of the oft-quoted lines that “the parish seeks a person of prayer”… and then complain that the vicar doesn’t come to, or do, everything they ask or expect when the vicar does indeed turn out to be that person of prayer they asked for! When I was ordained I promised to do and be many things: one of them was to be committed to the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. I can only say how grateful I am that God is gracious and merciful rather than judging by works! I need to keep reminding myself that praying the offices (bread and water diet that they may be) not only keeps me engaged with scripture, Spirit and circumstances, but is part of the ministry to which I’m called and not hurdles that must be overcome before the day starts or ends. The quiet times, if I can get my act together, can help re-cement that discipline in place (even if I’d rather do them with some human company). And speaking of discipline I’m aware that I would do well to re-engage in theological reading…. or just the work of the day.

Which leads me into something else… In a different way of speaking, I am also out of hours. Contracted to a 37 hour week, Monday to Friday, and having covered Open Days and evenings, I was nearly 44 hours over contract as of last Friday. I’m also very grateful that I am effectively self-managing, when it comes to time. No-one can easily tell me to go home or take a week off, or lose it. Even if I did have to lose it, I probably wouldn’t begrudge it. Having done a 6 day  week parochial ministry for over a decade I’m used to working until what needs to be done is done, as well as being able to be flexible. (Neither does it do any harm having 13 days of Annual Leave in hand until the contract ends… if I get round to using it! Don’t ask me why I’m not at home at the moment since it’s school holidays: the answer is within the question.)

Ironic, isn’t it? I write about time and have more ideas than I can fit in now, simply because I have run out of time.

 …I failed to post it before term restarted, today, although you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference!

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