What is a chaplain?

(Post written by Rebecca Millar)

I am asked this question multiple times a week in a whole host of settings; students I’m working alongside, my friends and family or even in the back seat of an uber. Some days I even find myself asking that question.

I first came across chaplaincy when I started university. I was unsure what they did, other than be friendly, slightly religious and make a cracking brew. I considered myself as someone who kind of had their life together and didn’t particularly need the kind of support that they were offering. Boy was I wrong.

About 5 weeks into my undergraduate degree my Dad passed away and this shook me to my core, and truly broke my heart. (This is something I am still very much wrestling with and journeying through, so it would probably be more grammatically correct in the present tense, but hey.) It felt like my whole world had flipped upside down and I just didn’t know what to do. After a month or so, I decided to come back to university and try to continue my studies. As if burying my head in books and freshers nights out would solve all my problems.

But this was hard. I was hurting, I had yet to find a Church and whilst my friends were an incredible help and support I felt really lost. Then I heard that still small voice, not quite of the Lord, but of a chaplain, offering a listening ear, a safe space, and as I said, a cracking brew. It was then that I began to really notice what the chaplaincy was. It was a space to come and relax and to simply be. They provided care and compassion. They gave me space to be angry and upset, a space to stress about my studies and halls of residence and a space to feel truly valued and loved.

As someone who had been deeply passionate about their faith before losing their Dad, it was something I was keen to root myself back in, but I just couldn’t. They provided opportunities to help me pray, to help me find a church, and to just generally support me in the many ups and downs of university life. To help me get my faith back on track and allowed me to ask those hard and at times painful questions that I was wrestling with. I’m not sure if I would have come out the other side of my degree had it not been the university chaplaincy. I certainly wouldn’t have got a job there.

So when people ask me what is a chaplain, I say a few things. I say they offer safe space for students from all walks of life to be themselves and be loved. They provide spiritual guidance and walk alongside people in their journeys. They offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. They strive to be (and mess it up a lot, but we’re only human after all) love incarnate for those they meet and serve. And at the end of the day, they make a cracking brew.

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