Our ministry at Keele is often focussed towards students and supporting them through a time of dramatic change and growth. Helping them to explore some of life's big questions and reminding them of our belief in a God of love and justice. Our ministry often begins via incidental conversations, or being present in places where people naturally are. We seek to be those that ask questions such as 'How are you?' and really mean it – those who seek to listen to the what lays below the initial response.
Covid has limited some of these incidental pastoral conversations but has led to other opportunities which we have tried to embrace. Over recent months one thing we identified was the stress and impact on staff who were constantly having to respond to the changing world, juggling the pressures of university processes, individual students, their own families, or circumstances etc. After identifying a need we sought to find ways to respond pastorally and created safe spaces by hosting virtual 'Reflection and Wellbeing sessions'. These were opportunities to pause, acknowledge how people are and to support one another in these challenging times. We use an online tool called Mentimeter to enable interactive engagement and to help people to reflect on where they are and how they are feeling. We then facilitate smaller online group conversations to talk a little more personally and to reflect together. Those that have attended have really appreciated the sessions with some staff asking for more, or beginning a one to one pastoral contact with a chaplain, something we rarely had prior to covid restrictions.
Although these sessions don't often directly address questions of faith we often ask spiritual questions such as 'what is giving you hope' and its encouraging how naturally people end up talking about their own faith. I have also offered a similar session for those in ordained ministry in the district where we could also pray for one another and consider where we have encountered God in recent months as well as in a fellowship group of those who worship with us regularly.
One of the real privileges of chaplaincy is to have significant and deep conversations regularly. Covid has certainly brought a greater awareness of our mortality to the fore and we may not be having those conversations face to face, but I'm glad they are still happening. It's a privilege to journey alongside people, ask questions, listen deeply and hopefully bring an awareness of God's presence into the everyday realities of life even in the challenging largely virtual world of lockdown.
Rev James Pritchard – Methodist minister and Free Church Chaplain at Keele University