A letter to my son

21 September 2021

In the film ‘Yesterday’ an aspiring musician, Jack, is hit by a bus in a 12 second global power outage.  When he awakes, he finds himself in an alternative reality where, amongst other things, no one has heard of the Beatles, nor any of their songs.  Jack quickly rises in fame and popularity by passing off the Beatles’ music as his own, until true love (and John Lennon) draw him back to a more truthful life.

I have to confess that in the experience of the last few years on the campuses of the two universities, I live in a world where most people I meet have never heard of Methodists.  On the occasions when it comes up, sometimes people genuinely are interested, as if in some kind of niche religion or else they have a vague recollection of a grandparent that might have been one once.  If I wanted to, a bit like the film, I could pass off the riches of Methodism as my own and no one would be any the wiser.

Being a chaplain in this context actually is a lot of fun because, as many people say, this generation has less baggage about faith than previous generations. They aren’t reacting against a form of Christianity that has been forced upon them in school or clubs; they are more curious and open, than guarded.  It’s a refreshing surprise to be asked what I believe and how I experience God on a regular basis.

My 18 year old son is about to head off to university and I wonder what conversations he will have with his flatmates and friends about life and faith.  I wonder what his Methodist background will feel like to him and I wonder what connections (if any) to chaplaincy or church he will make when he is there. 

I think he’s seen enough of what I do to have some expectations about chaplaincy, perhaps especially relating to free food and international friendships, but I wonder if that will be enough to tempt him across the threshold?

I’ve asked for my son’s permission to write this for him (and he’s asked me not to use his name). It’s for him and for all students who in some way are a part of our Methodist family; either through relatives or friendships or because of their own discipleship journey.

Dear son...

Congratulations on this next step in life’s adventure.  You and your friends have been through a very strange time indeed, completing your A Levels in ways no one could have envisaged, coping with lots of disappointments and changes and uncertainty, possibly more than the rest of us. 

We all hope that the year ahead will be a bit more normal, that you’ll be able to attend lectures in person and make lots of new friends and enjoy living in your new city.

Faith has been a part of your life so far and you have known prayers answered and, from time to time, had a sense of God’s presence.  You’ve enjoyed, at different times and in different ways, being a part of Christian community.  

As your mum, I’ve wanted you to experience the best parts of being a part of God’s family, but I know that, like the rest of us, you have sometimes run into less than perfect expressions of our life together. At this juncture, perhaps more than ever before, it is an open question what you will do with your experiences.

It might be that you decide to make contact with a chaplain in your first few weeks at university, but of course you may find that God is leading you in different ways.  I hope you know that Methodist chaplains are not here for Methodist students.  Well, of course we are, but not exclusively so, and we have no expectation that anyone from a Methodist background would necessarily want to be identified as such at university. 

We’ll let you be you.  We’d love to get to know you and hear your thoughts and stories, but we make no demands on you.

Methodist chaplains aren’t trying to entice you into any society or group or service.  We don’t have quotas of certain types of students with whom we need to engage.  You might be surprised to find that we have more in common with you than you think and, if we don’t, we would be very happy to signpost you to groups that do.  We generally try quite hard to be well-connected.

When we’re at our best, chaplains are motivated by God’s love to do what we do.  We are sometimes overwhelmed with a sense of how much God loves the varied communities on our campuses. We look out for ways to serve students in any way we can, and we’d be happy to meet you for a coffee or go for a walk if that sounded good, and are as happy to talk about serious things as not-so-serious things.

We love to bring people together, to encourage conversation, and to celebrate the gifts of others. We will pray for you or with you, if you ask us to (and sometimes in our hearts, even if you don’t).

I find that some of the best things about being a university chaplain are the daily surprises and wonderful conversations with students from a huge array of backgrounds and interests, their openness to discussion and difference. 

I can’t wait for you to know what that is like, to enjoy the beautiful diversity of God’s family and to discover even more deeply who God has made you to be.

I’m praying that you and all other students preparing to start the adventure of the year ahead will know that God is with them and that you will know how wide and long and high and deep God’s love is for you in all that you experience. 

I love you and am delighted with the adult that you have become and know that you will bless others your whole life long.


Written by an HE chaplain