Chaplaincy in an age of Coronavirus

The key duties of the Chaplain are the conduct of Chapel Services and the oversight of welfare of students, staff and Fellows. During a period of lockdown, both duties have changed considerably.

Much of the Chaplain’s time – especially during Easter Term – revolves around students themselves. The stress of exams and preparing to leave college manifests itself in different kinds of ways. Simply listening to students, as an adult of their parents’ generation and slightly removed from the college structures, is where most energy is invested.
Naturally, since most students are currently at home where many of them are supported by their families, this aspect of care is simply unnecessary. Whilst there are always individual students who contact the Chaplain in confidence to discuss other matters, the bulk of pastoral support has shifted either to families and friends, or to other members of the college. Without exception, every student with whom I have had contact during the lockdown, has expressed profound appreciation for support received from the college – in particular from the Senior Tutor’s office, Directors of Studies and Tutors. This is largely because such folk are well placed to address the administrative concerns and anxieties felt by so many, especially our finalists.

Many of our staff have been furloughed and are deeply worried about the viability of their future employment by the college. Again, however, all the staff with whom I have contact have again expressed their appreciation for the way the college continues to support them.  Regular updates from the College Steward have ensured that staff feel well-informed, and regular social events on Facebook and Zoom have managed to maintain a degree togetherness.

Most Fellows have found themselves busier than usual as teaching has had to shift online, and as different departments within the university negotiate their own ways through the shifting guidance and regulations issued by the government. Despite all this, many fellows, staff and students have found themselves isolated during the lockdown period – and it is in the ‘company’ of these folk that the bulk of my own time has been spent.

Since it remains unclear what kind of Chapel services may or may not be possible in Michaelmas Term, we have spent the summer conducting a series of interviews with key thinkers from around the world. The theme is The Fall of the Temple, and has a particular emphasis on absence and loss. These are being woven into video publications that are ready to go online in Michaelmas or – depending on what kind of Chapel services might resume – beforehand.  So far, speakers include Rabbi David Rosen (former Chief Rabbi of Ireland), Dame Mary Beard (Professor of Classics), Miriam Margolyes (BAFTA award-winning actor), Sir Martin Rees (Astronomer Royal), Rev Al Sharpton (Civil Rights Activist), Rosa Clemente (Hip Hop artist and Civil Rights historian), and Brian Brock (Professor of Theology and a leading thinker on  ethics and disability).

During this lockdown, it is often noted that people are either much quieter or much busier than usual. Since late March, the chaplaincy at Robinson has shifted slowly but surely from the former to the latter.

Rev'd Dr Simon Perry, The Chaplain

Robinson College Chapel Guide