The challenge of chaplaincy in new spaces...

11 November 2022

Richard Sharples reflects on the challenges of setting up chaplaincy in a place that's not used to it. In his case, an FE college...

When I arrived at Victoria Methodist Church in Bristol, I couldn't help but noticing that there was a school of art next door.

Twice before in my ministry I have done chaplaincies with schools of art, but both in HE. Bristol School of Art is run by South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, a regional FE provider. University students were already provided for through the Multifaith Chaplaincy, but FE has always been the poor relation.

Furthermore, the Art School was desperate for space, so rather than simply let them space for a fee, I offered to do some Chaplaincy. At that point the college had a Chaplaincy Coordinator (based at the Filton site), but within the year that post was cut. Nevertheless, I completed DBS checks, registered with the college as a Chaplain, and began visiting next door once a week during term time.

It felt (and this may have been more my feelings than reality) quite a hostile climate, although only on one occasion did a tutor ask me: "What are you doing here?" And that was more that I came into some teaching space without asking. Fair enough.

However, I did find the culture of the college more challenging; FE is simply less familiar with the concept of Chaplaincy. But gradually, relationships have built up - as has the use of the Church by the art school. I found the College Counsellor and the Student Union worker especially good colleagues, and the library staff are always very welcoming.

In my experience, students never come to talk to me; conversations arise over lunch tables or across a work of art. I'm always looking for projects on which we might work together. Not being a practising artist myself, I have been impressed with the process of making art, and especially the discipline of journaling/showing your sources/inspiration. It is inherently a spiritual practice, I think.