Go-between chaplains

18 March 2021

As chaplains in two Birmingham universities, Sally Rush and the Revd Andrew Brazier create opportunities for students of different faiths to form friendships.

Imagine interfaith encounter as a potential friendship. You know how well people could be getting on but instead they hide nervously in the corners of this unfamiliar world. So Higher Education chaplains become the go-betweens trying to create the opportunities to meet.

Before such a gathering begins there is nervous expectation. Will anyone actually show up? Perhaps the idea is to have a shared meal and then pray together, as far as folk feel able. Perhaps you have invited all the faith societies. What, though, if only the Christians turn up? What if praying together feels awkward?

Then slowly people start to gather in the room. The Sikhs arrive with the little harmonium that they use for worship.

Clearly they are comfortable with your plan. The Christians from the Christian Union arrive with their nervous smiles; then the Muslims with their information booklets and more confidence. It might feel like bribery but students will always turn up for food, so that must come first.

The buffet is revealed with the halal and kosher cuisine and pots and plates labelled with every dietary requirement you could think of. Soon everyone is relaxing and so are you. The Buddhist chaplain is chatting with the Pagan chaplain. The Catholics find common ground with the Jews to discuss their festivals together.

We are supporters and translators; introducing everyone and giving this opportunity for students of  different faiths to meet. As each person round the circle leads their part of the prayers, it becomes apparent that this is what life and world peace should look like – a good relationship.

So what does a chaplain do? We remind people of what they already know: that they respect and appreciate each other. Oh, and offer to tidy up the mess after the meeting.

This article originally appeared in the connexion magazine, issue 6.
Banner image : © Andrew Brazier, TMCP