Ruth Wells is the newly appointed Senior Chaplain for BU and the Arts University. She is an ordained priest in the Church of England, a social-justice advocate and a performance poet. Ruth lives with her husband and three children.
Although I have had a snapshot of working on the Faith and Reflection team, during a part-time secondment, 1st September marked my beginning as full-time Senior Chaplain. I’m starting a new academic year, with a brand new job, in what feels somewhat like a brand new world.
Beginnings often hold for me a heady mix of anxious excitement and fearful hope. I am trying to embrace those feelings and remember these may echo some of the feelings of those beginning their own studies with BU and AUB, as well as the feelings of staff and returning students navigating an ever-changing situation.
On 9th September I got to mark my new beginning with a special licensing service, attended by the Bishop of Sherborne, my immediate family, a handful of friends and representatives of both BU and AUB. Taking time to mark beginnings (like baptisms or weddings) is a gift of the faith tradition I come from. I really appreciated having that small amount of time in the Faith and Reflection centre, and wandering around the Talbot Campus (as well as via a zoom link), to celebrate the start of something new for me, and for the communities I have come to work alongside. I am sure many people starting at the universities, as well as those starting back, have their own ways of marking the beginning; with some new stationary, or a ritual walk around the campus, or a take-away reward at the end of the day. Remembering and marking are healthy habits I think.
At the start of lockdown, I was working partly in the Faith and Reflection Team and partly in a parish. Like so many others I have had to adjust my way of working over the past 6 months. Writing this has helped me reflect some more on what learning I want to bring with me to the chaplaincy role;
Building in rhythms; When the usual patterns of my working week were disrupted, I found I felt very unsettled. I have begun to build in new rhythms to try and address that a bit. For example, I find that walking my son to school and taking that time on the walk home to pray and prepare for the day has been a really enriching. It is a ‘pocket of peace’ for my day!
Soul nourishment; As a chaplain, I am interested in how we take time to nourish and care for our souls. As a person of faith there are practices that help me feel anchored - to feel a part of something bigger than myself and my worries, gives me a helpful life perspective. In these anxiety-ridden times I have found these traditions useful. I sometimes use ‘The Examen’ (a very old way of reflecting on the day) as a part of my own reflection on how I feel and what I want to address. I know many other people have deeply held and beautiful ways of caring for their soul, like taking time to chat to friends, or eating an amazing meal or walking on the beach.
Body and mind; With an increased amount of time sat down at a desk, when ordinarily I would be wandering around meeting people and doing a diverse range of things, I have found I need to be intentional about exercising. I moved house during lockdown and have found a new yoga class nearby to where I now live which is a gift to my week. It helps that it is still outside under the trees and I can engage my mind, or not, whilst stretching my body, surrounded by beauty. I always feel revived, if not exhausted, at the end of a class.
Self-care; Practicing my own self-care has been a vital lesson for me. I often talk to other people about the importance of this so it has been a chance to practice what I preach! Working from home with three children around has been both joyous and utter chaos. One example of learning self-care has been when my husband and I have had to take the time to make sure the children had lunch, and in doing so it meant we had to stop for lunch (something that sometimes got lost before).
I have secretly loved it when a Teams/Zoom meet has been ‘interrupted’ by a cat or a child or someone knocking at someone else’s door. Seeing and acknowledging colleagues as people, with lives beyond work is healthy and helps me to keep hold of that humanising thread. As someone whose role is, in part, to offer support to staff and students of all faiths and none, empathy is such a vital facet to continue to grow.
As a team of chaplains and faith advisors we are just planning how we can best offer support and what the next few months will look like for us. I am working in a blended way (as I know so many others are) with some work out of the Faith and Reflection Centre- based on the Talbot Campus, and some work from home. I feel like having a physical place in the universities is important as an offer of sanctuary - a soulspace in the midst of the busyness of university life. I hope to continue building some pockets of peace and soul spaces into my own work and life going forward and to accompany others in doing the same in ways that hold meaning for them.