Space for Spirit, Room for Religion

Here is a copy of a post about the European Conference coming up in June ’15 for ‘Thinking Chaplaincy’ – a blog for university chaplains.

Hi, as the UK and Ireland rep for the Conference of European University Chaplains I want to invite all of you working in HE Chaplaincy to  our conference in the Netherlands, June 8-12th 2015.

All the practical details are on the website and there is a very ambient trailer to watch too!

The theme is ‘Space for Spirit, Room for Religion’.DSC_0225

As Higher Education Chaplains we are always talking about space. “What kind of space do you have?” is a frequent question we ask each other- some of us work from a desk in student services, some of us manage multi-faith centres, some of us have space ‘off campus’, and while some dream of what could be done with ‘more space’, others deal with the daily caretaking issues of ‘shared space’.

Along with these very practical issues the conference will explore the question “Is any space left for Spirit in contemporary, secular society?”

I like the approach of the organisers when they say,

“We won’t approach secularity as a problem nor as something to regret. Rather, we consider it as a given fact that shapes both our context and our work. In the keynote speeches, we will be considering society, secularity and the changing role of religion and spirituality. Among the many related themes we will consider some contemporary tasks of theologians, the room we give to our ‘clients’, as well as the rooms we are given and spaces we claim for ourselves.”

There is information on the conference website about the key note speakers but here is my own summary of what’s going to be on offer in the Netherlands.

Hope to see you there.

Andrew Willson, UK and Ireland representative for the Conference of European University Chaplains  a.willson@imperial.ac.uk

The conference will be opened with an address by Karin van den Broeke, Chair of the Protestantse Kerk in Nederland (PKN).

The first key note speeches are on ‘Exploring chaplaincy in a dispossessed world’  with Prof Tom Beaudoin, from Fordham University, New York, USA and Prof Theo de Wit, Faculty of Catholic Theology, Tilburg University, the Netherlands.

There’s a trip to Amsterdam, where we will hear Prof Mechteld Jansen, Protestant Theological University, ask ‘Why does society need theologians?’

Followed by a visit to ‘De Nieuwe Poort’, a pioneering chaplaincy Center at the Amsterdam Financial Center and a meeting with its founder the pastor and social entrepreneur Rev’d Ruben van Zwieten. (There is free time in the great city of Amsterdam too!)

There is also a key note talks on “chaplaincy, theology and innovation – what can we learn from internet marketing and customer feedback?” by Florian Sobetzko, Innovation Evangelist and teacher at University of Bochum, Germany.

Finally, Prof Martin Walton (who has a great reputation for using singing, drama and artistic improvisation in his talks), will reflect on these themes from his perspective as professor in spiritual care and chaplaincy studies at the Protestant Theological University, in Groningen.

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Interfaith Action for Social Justice

News flash! You need to follow the link to see the pictures and get the details

I have just seen details of this great project ‘Sukkah’ at St Jame’s Church Piccadilly who are working with the Jewish Social Action Forum at West London Synagogue. It’s  joint celebration of the Church’s Harvest Festival and the Jewish Sukkot Festival. With food donations going to local food banks.

Very pleased to see the involvement of

  • RCA sculptor and alumni Anna Sikorska
  • the Trussell Trust
  • scriptural reasoning

Great event!

Memorial Service for a well loved and much respected engineering entrepreneur

Colin with Turbine editedIt was a great honour to assist at the memorial service for Prof Colin Besant, who died suddenly during the summer. The service was an opportunity for friends and colleagues to pay their respects and give thanks for the part that Colin had in their lives and work. Colin was a highly creative engineer, and engineering entrepreneur. He began working to develop nuclear reactors in the 1960s. In the late 1960s he saw the potential for Computer Aided Design for engineering and manufacturing. He also worked on power generation, heat exchange and electro-magnetic imaging. Colin was one of the pioneers of what is now known as ‘the spin-out company’, the way of developing ideas from PhD research into businesses. You can read more about his career in this obituary.

With all memorials – whether for someone with religious or philosophical beliefs – we want to prepare an event that is true to the values and beliefs of the person being remembered. So, for Colin, this was something very traditionally Anglican. He was a member of his local Church and a Church Warden – one of the key elected lay leaders. Yet, with academic colleagues coming from a wide range of world views, we also explicitly say that everyone is welcome, and that we do not presume that everyone has the same beliefs. Those attending are, I hope, then free to use the liturgical space and time for their personal reflections, thanksgiving and farewells. That’s not exactly rocket science. But it is, I hope, a rooted, and open, expression of Anglican Christianity.

For those who are interested, the engine in the picture is an Auxiliary Power Unit for a Vulcan aircraft. This was discovered by Colin in Derby and brought back to the department of Mechanical Engineering for experimentation!

Colin Besant, may he rest in peace, and rise in glory

Not one but two Buddhist colleagues?

DSC_1533 Zafus - Buddhist meditation cushions, black with white labels saying chaplaincy

Here is an article I have written for  ‘Kalyana Mitra – Caring for others through Spiritual Friendship’,  the newsletter of The Buddhist Chaplaincy Support Group.

The Church of England Chaplain at Imperial College, Andrew Willson, talks about Higher Education Chaplaincy and working with two Buddhist colleagues.
In the Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre at Imperial we have four key areas to our work. The first is the multi-faith approach – using the Centre as a place where students of different faiths can practice their religion.
The second area is pastoral care. Sometimes this relates to a person’s religious life, but often it does not. The third area is interfaith – promoting better understanding and co-operation between people from different religious groups. The fourth area is offering opportunities to reflect on meanings and values arising from studies or work. For example, supporting medical ethics teaching, facilitating staff and students to share together their motivations and inspiration as civil engineers, or reflecting with animal care technicians about the stresses of their work in bio-medical research. In reality these four key areas all overlap!
For me, working with chaplains from religions different to my own has been the best way to do chaplaincy in education. Collaborative work between Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Christian and Muslim colleagues demonstrates our commitment to interfaith co-operation and dialogue in our own lives.
For the last 6 years at Imperial we have used our budget to employ part-time chaplains who have a generic role serving anyone who comes to the Chaplaincy, as well as those from their own faith tradition. We have had Hindu and Lutheran chaplains, who have supported Chaplaincy in the four key areas. A year ago we invited Karuna Priya, our volunteer Buddhist Chaplain, take on a paid role as a generic chaplain in this way, as well as continuing to support the Buddhist communities at Imperial.
Sixteen months ago Hogetsu Baerndal came from ‘Kalyana Mitra’ for a voluntary placement to learn about HE Chaplaincy. My Lutheran colleague, Rikke Juul, and I were already running a non-religious mindfulness group. When she returned to Denmark we were able to employ Hogetsu for one day a week to lead our mindfulness work. As a trained Zen Mindfulness teacher, Hogetsu strengthened our mindfulness programme. Given the great interest in mindfulness in Higher Education we are in a good position. Together we offer a mindfulness programme that includes introductory sessions, workshops, and a weekly group. We also offer Buddhist and Christian meditation. I sense that staff and students like seeing people from different religions working together. It demonstrates that both sides respect each other, and that creates a safe, respectful space for others to enter.
Working closely with my Buddhist colleagues has energised my own Christian meditation practice. It has sent me back to the sources of my own contemplative tradition, especially to read those Christians who have a deep understanding of Buddhism, like Thomas Merton, Anthony De Mello, and James Finlay. Buddhism has helped me see the integration of mind, body and spirit that is deep in the tradition of Christian prayer and meditation. And that only deepens my understanding of Jesus and his teaching.

Silence in September 2014

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I am back from summer holidays and getting into the workaday routines.

In university-land here in the UK we  are preparing for the new academic year that begins in a few weeks.

It feels like a  ‘new year’ is about to dawn. Soon the campus will be full of an extra 10,000 people. Each day will be full of new encounters and new relationships. The ‘buzz’ will be deafening. So, I am going to use September to look for the moments of silence in my everyday life.

It is a good way of preparing, because in my Christian tradition silence has many meanings. Silence is itself a form of prayer, and it can be cultivated in meditation. Silence is almost interchangeable with solitude. There is the idea of listening to the silence around us so we can notice the noise or silence within us. This kind of inner silence can be the place from which we meet and listen deeply to others. And silence is the very presence of God.

Holi@imperial college

Great scenes from Hindu Soc’s  celebration of Holi. All this madness and mayhem took place in Imperial’s  Secret Garden, just behind the Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre.

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Talking to students I heard many stories and meanings associated with Holi. It is certainly the festival of spring and a celebration of colour.

In honour of my present, and ex-, Hindu colleagues who are devotees of Krishna,  here is the Wikipedia account of Holi that tells of the love between Krishna and Radha.

‘In In Braj region of India, where Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna, a Hindu deity. The festivities officially usher in spring, with Holi celebrated as festival of love. There is a symbolic myth behind commemorating Krishna as well. Baby Krishna transitioned into his characteristic dark blue skin colour because a she demon Putana poisoned him with her breast milk. In his youth, Krishna despairs whether fair skinned Radha and other Gopikas (girls) will like him because of his skin colour. His mother, tired of the desperation, asks him to approach Radha and colour her face in any colour he wanted. This he does, and Radha and Krishna became a couple. The playful colouring of the face of Radha has henceforth been commemorated as Holi.’ 

Pieta from Product Design on Good Friday

Here is something for your visual meditation this Good Friday. It is a short film by Emilie Voirin, who graduated last year from the Product Design Course at the Royal College of Art.

Play link to ‘Pieta’ on Vimeo.

I really like the questions about religious practice and art that Emilie asks as a product designer – they were great conversations.

For the majority of us thankfully, holding the body of a dead adult child is not an experience we are likely to have. Yet religious practice does set aside days of the year as invitations to contemplate subjects we might prefer to ignore. And there are many places where, tragically, the Pieta experience happens to many.

Today is Good Friday – the day of the year when Christians remember Jesus’ death and this scene of his body being held by Mary his mother. So time to ponder both art and life.

These are Emilie’s own words on the project;

“I have deconstructed the gesture of the famous Pieta, which depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, and created tools to reproduce it as a filmed performance. In this way I want to reinvigorate traditional religious art by re-contextualizing its production, conveying the power of religious codes and their interpretation through the language of objects.”

 

 

Hungry for Justice – Carols with an interfaith dimension

1959610_10152369210973417_439517485_n  Regular readers will have guessed I have a blog backlog – created by the move of the Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre to a new location.

So, a little un-seasonally, here is news from our Carol Service back in December.

It was a pleasure to welcome students from the Ahlul Bayt Society (Shia Muslim) who were leading the ‘Hungry for Justice’ campaign.

Students from the Ahlul Bayt and Catholic Societies joined together to take the collection – raising £270 for the campaign. A great sum from a service that celebrates the birth of Jesus – in the poverty of a stable and about to flee with his family as refugees.

They were also raising awareness of poverty in the UK. The money went to Fair Share Community Food Banks,  the Trussell Trust and Al-Mizan Charitable Trust.

Al-Mizan is  ‘the only Muslim grant-funder to individuals in the UK, regardless of their faith, culture or background.’ Trussell Trust is a Christian charity with a similar  ethos.

All this alongside glorious music from Imperial College Choir. And thanks too to students from Cath Soc who helped celebrate the international dimension of life at Imperial by leading prayers were led by in Mandarin, Cantonese, German, Spanish, French, Polish and English.

 

Multi… and Inter…Faith (Our new home at No 11)

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It’s taken a while, but here are some photos of the Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre in our grand new home – 11 Princes Gardens.

In September we moved into five rooms on the ground floor ( just in case the photo suggests we occupy all five floors!)

It is great to have one place to offer hospitality to  a multi-plicity of groups from different faith and world views. It is also good to see signs of inter – faith collaboration and working together. Such as, the student led ‘Seeker’s Corner’, a  weekly interfaith discussion group.

It is proving very popular with student groups, for prayer, meditation, talks, music, discussions and social events.

We are delighted to be welcoming  Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh student groups. We are especially pleased that the Community Action Group are using the kitchen to prepare for  their Sunday Soup Run working with local people who are homeless.

It was also good to welcome the Erasmus Society – supporting European exchange students – for a large social gathering.

And with our Meditation and Prayer Room, and the beautiful Garden Room, we now have great spaces for our  meditation groups – Buddhist, secular Mindfulness, and Christian.

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‘we are all one, and if we don’t know it…

…we will learn it the hard way.’

This is a quote from the US Civil Rights and peace activist Bayard Rustin. They were the final words of a documentary film about Rustin’s life and work shown at Imperial  in  Black History Month. Rustin conceived and organised the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.

There is another dimension to this quote –  Rustin was also  openly gay. And the  film night was hosted by ‘Imperial as One’ and ‘Imperial 600’ – the networks for Black and Minority Ethnic staff  and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered staff.

After the film there was a short talk about countering racism and homophobia from Dr Rob Berkely, the director of the Runnymede Trust. Rob described himself as an openly gay black man, adding that as a racial justice campaigner, ‘I have no choice, I live my job’.

BayardRustinAug1963-LibraryOfCongress_crop

To me it’s seems an important moment when these two networks promoting equality for BME and LGBT staff can work together. I know that for some this is not an easy partnership. And religion is one of the reasons for this discomfort.

Yet, under the Equality Act 2010,  it is illegal to discriminate against a person on grounds of their religion, just as it is on grounds of sexual orientation. (The other ‘protected characteristics’ are gender, disability, race, age  and pregnancy).

The UN Declaration on Human Rights argues that human rights are ‘indivisible’  and ‘interdependent’. They should not  be implemented selectively, and an attack on one affects the others. Clearly, more dialogue and trust is needed where these rights appear to clash. This is a dialogue that Chaplaincy is willing to facilitate and support.

The last word – and a repeated warning – on the need to overcome these apparent conflicts between different human rights needs to go to the amazing and inspiring Bayard Rustin – musician, pacifist, civil rights, peace and union rights campaigner.

‘We are all one, and if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way’.