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Change & Decay? 10 February 2015

Posted by Dr Moose in Changes, Chaplaincy, Faith, Life, Theology, Time, University.
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A rather negative title, I would admit, but I do feel rather flat and worried at the moment. (This isn’t intended to be an internet moan, certainly not a cry for help, but might turn out simply as a therapeutic exercise! You may wish to move on, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!) I love my job as University Chaplain, and am in no hurry to return to parochial ministry, but I do seem to have hit a bit of a flat patch.

I feel like I’m not working hard enough. You may note the word ‘feel’. Looking at it logically I know that it’s unlikely. I’m probably putting in more hours than I have for a while, partly because our administrator is off sick, and has been for a few weeks. Much of what she does isn’t so much as admin as general support, but when she’s not there it still has to be done, which is fine, and includes such down to earth realities as washing up! People need their free drinks. Sadly they feel the need to tidy up rather less! Sometimes the Chaplaincy centre has been quieter, which has allowed me to do some reading for the first time in too long. If anything that is what I should be concerned about: I haven’t done any serious reading to support my ministry and faith for a very long time which is a very good reason to get off my backside and organise that sabbatical. (Thought: Would a heavy metal band taking a break from music be having a Black Sabbatical?)

Life continues. I’ve been supporting a number of students through the usual variety of issues, big and small, not to mention the joy I find in staffing the tea and coffee trolley, which is a fabulous tool for community engagement and relationship building. Then there are the Applicant Visit Days on Saturdays, once a month or so, and the Winter Graduations, three ceremonies of which I attended on Sunday in a rather warm theatre, sitting on stage all robed-up and gently roasting under the lights! Last week we had the statistically inevitable, but difficult, occurence of a student death in halls on campus, with all that goes with it, offering support to bereaved friends, flatmates, coursemates, acquaintances, staff and so on. As you might imagine this is ongoing, as well as revealing some details about how we work as a Chaplaincy, both the good and the areas for improvement.

Change is also on the wind. It’s no secret that the University is moving to a shiny new town centre campus for 2018-19, which will look beautiful: how it will work is another question entirely (although I’m more hopeful about the new Multi-Faith Chaplaincy Centre in the light of a meeting earlier today). The prospect is unsettling for many people. The academics are not happy with the plans for their spaces, as they are expected to “hot desk” and lose their own offices, and tend to that feel their concerns aren’t really being addressed. As part of the process to create a structure that will “fit”into the smaller premises the wider department of Student and Academic Services is just starting a consultation over the latest reorganisation, a big shake up with inevitable changes and redundancies. It doesn’t feel that long since the last one though, with many of the same people being affected. Understandably morale is not brilliant! It’s not easy trying to keep your own spirits up in the middle of everything.

But I’m a Chaplain, a priest, so where’s God in all this? Where’s faith? What does that have to offer? Well, as I write I’ve realised that due to family committments (a birthday party) and Graduation last weekend I haven’t been in corporate worship (“church”) for two weeks, which might have something to say about my personal circumstances and flatness! In the bigger picture, however, we know that to live is to change, whether we like it or not. We distinguish good change, that which we can control, from bad change, that which happens to us, regardless of our will. Maybe the reason for so much of our disquiet, whether in this university or beyond, centres around bad change (or change that is perceived to be bad), particularly the long drawn-out changes. One of the few good outcomes of the Fall, the corruption of once-perfect humanity, in the creation myth of the book of Genesis (chapter 3) is the capacity to instigate and manage change in the exercise of free will. Whether the mortality that comes with it is a price worth paying for that is another matter, of course, although that leads into the Christian gospel of redemption and restoration through Jesus Christ. (Not to mention the interesting theological observation that as the Word becomes flesh, God incarnate, so is something of the nature of God actually altered by the assumption of the renewed humanity of the Christ as he bodily ascends to heaven… Both the human and the divine come out different.)

In the mean time, as I watch a campus doomed to die within the near future, and expect an ever-increasing degree of winding-down as the months run on, I remain faithful and hopeful of the presence of the divine in the now. As Abide with Me, the old hymn so often sung at funerals but often placed in hymn books as to be used in the context of the evening, puts it

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

We cannot stop change, entropy always increases, but we don’t have to walk alone into the future, certain or unknown.

 

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