I began serving as Chaplain to St Mary’s College at Durham University at the start of 2013. By this summer’s close, my tenure will end. When I began working full-time at St John’s College at the start of this academic year as a lecturer and tutor in theology and ministry, Mary’s allowed me to reduce my hours to a meager 3.5 per week—this is not enough time to do justice to the chaplaincy post. It is time for someone else to rise to the task.
I am tremendously grateful that the leadership at Mary’s has allowed an ordained Baptist minister (from America of all places!) to provide pastoral support to students and to lead the fortnightly worship services alongside the beloved Chapel Choir. For the entire Mary’s community, I give sincere thanks.
Some of the Challenges…
In reflecting back over the past two and a half years, there are a number of challenges I can recall. Obviously, it was extremely difficult taking on this post while finishing a book that I was (perhaps insanely) writing while simultaneously writing a PhD thesis. And yes, it was quite challenging for a free church minister to lead Evensong and Communion services following a worship guide based loosely on the Book of Common Prayer (though I admit to preaching longer than the standard Anglican expectations!).
I think the greatest challenge, though, was the lack of time for getting to know well a wider range of students.
I have led two other university ministries. I was full-time in both of those posts, and I remember pounding my weekly calendar full of more one-on-one meetings than humanly possible, all for the sake of building genuine relationships with students. Seven hours per week (and the 3.5 hours per week this past year) are just not enough to allow for such an intense schedule of meetings. And here in the UK, a minister has only 3 years—rather than 4 in the US—to reach out to students before they fly off into the “real world.”
Some of the Joys…
The chaplaincy work afforded some unique joys as well as challenges, of course.
Though I am solidly “free church” in my roots and theological persuasions, I am so delighted to have been allowed to minister within a liturgical worship context. The insider perspective has been so enriching for me, theologically and ministerially.
I joke about being long-winded as a preacher, but in fact, the chaplaincy post has made me less so. Though I still preached 15–20 minutes at Mary’s (quite a bit longer than the standard), I prepared those messages acknowledging time constraints that free church folk often do not need to worry about. In doing so, I think I have been forced (happily) into a practice of tightening my homiletical speech. There is an economy of sermonic wording I hope to maintain (though I will still likely gravitate to the 30 minute mark!).
I have also been introduced to an entire new world of music. The European choral tradition (that includes some extraordinary Russian composers as well) is something for which I will always be no more than an auditory novice. I will likely remain more comfortable with the praise choruses and hymns of the British and American Evangelical traditions. But I will from now on search YouTube during Advent for worshipful choral performances in England’s hallowed chamber halls.
I do not want to forget the camaraderie I have enjoyed with fellow staff at St Mary’s and with the other University Chaplains. I do not want to forget being corrected about how to properly pronounce “Van Gogh” at a high table formal dinner. I do not want to forget preaching in Durham Cathedral for the Carol Service, or the laughter with students over my mishaps in leading a liturgical Eucharist service, or the shared sense of painful grief at a memorial service for a student we lost to tragedy.
So… St Mary’s College: Thank you. This “chaplain” will miss you.