Declaration of Rights

When people first meet me in my role as a chaplain at UAL, they often ask me what religion I am; and when I say that I am an Anglican (Church of England), they ask me whether I am there exclusively for other Christians. The answer is no – the chaplains are there for everyone: for people of all faiths, atheists, and the unaligned.

This is not only reflected in the interfaith part of my job title, but also in the Anglican (I am employed by the Diocese of London, and seconded to the University, as an Anglican Chaplain and Inter Faith Advisor) because the Church of England itself is here for everyone – for example, your local Anglican parish priest is so not because you are a member of his or her church (chances are you aren’t) but because you live in the parish – and so, for example, all parishioners (not just Christians) have the right to marry in their local Anglican parish church for the same reason (although not currently if they’re gay… more of which later).

So, in a sense, the Anglican chaplains are priests to everyone who is part of the University ‘parish’. For example we work to ensure that there are appropriate Quiet Spaces for Muslim (and other) students and staff to pray in as per the requirements of their religion. In this, we work alongside the University’s Equality and Diversity Team. (This is not new for me, as I was involved with ‘equal opps’, as it was then called,  when I was a youth worker in the 1980’s working for the Inner London Education Authority, whose pioneering Race Sex and Class policy was developed long before Equalities legislation prompted Universities to devise their own responses. Indeed, it was the political controversy around these local policies that caused the ILEA to be shut down by the national government of the day, under Margaret Thatcher.)

But of course, this work of inclusivity could be understood entirely within the interfaith aspect of my role, and as such, without reference to my personal faith – I wasn’t a practicing Christian when I was a youth worker, for instance – let alone the fact that I am now a public minister. This distinction between the ‘Anglican Chaplain’ and ‘Interfaith Advisor’ aspects of my role is perhaps critical to understanding the ways in which I am there for everyone.

I have already explained how it is that my role as an Anglican priest is fully compatible with working with everyone within the University. In other words, I can minister to all, including those of other faiths. But that doesn’t mean that I can be a minister of  those other faiths. That is the prerogative of those whom those other faiths have appointed to be their public ministers, and in this regard we have a range of Faith Advisors with whom we work. It’s a bit like when I was a lecturer – in common with all my colleagues, I had a professional pastoral responsibility for all our students, but I was only appointed to teach the Fine Art students.

So does that mean that when it comes to the explicitly ‘religious’ functions of my role, I am exclusive? Again, I would say no – we welcome everyone to our specifically Christian services of Holy Communion in UAL, for example. And as I say, Muslim prayers are said regularly within the University, and we hope that once the new Quiet Spaces are fully available across all colleges, there will be more opportunity for all faiths to gather according to their tradition, and of course for those of no religious tradition to use these spaces for their own personal prayer and/or reflection.

In making this claim of inclusivity, I am not trying to erase the tensions and challenges of religious identity: I am not saying that all religions are the same, nor am I ignoring the ways in which various religions, including Christianity, have effectively excluded certain groups from full participation. Nonetheless, it can be claimed that it was Christianity that first introduced the concept of inclusivity into human culture.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which happens to be one of the readings appointed to be read in all Anglican churches on this day, includes the statement that ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal. 3.28)

What does this mean? Well, it is a deeply challenging theological statement, but in sociopolitical terms, by saying there is neither Jew nor Greek, I think Paul is clearly stating that, in Christianity, all races are equal; and when he says there is no male and female, he is stating that all sexes are equal; and when he says that there is neither slave nor free, he is stating that all classes are equal. An equal opps policy based on Race, Sex and Class – from 2000 years ago. Radical indeed!

In fact, Paul’s statement is so radical that we are still trying to work it out to this day. For example, it was not until 1843 that slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. The leader of the abolitionists was William Wilberforce, whose opposition to slavery was based on his Anglican evangelicalism. But it is also the case that those who defended slavery at that time claimed Biblical support for their position. Prof. Richard Burridge, Dean of King’s College London, has drawn parallels between this and today’s ethical and religious debates, notably those around sexuality – you can download his text Being Biblical? Slavery, Sexuality, and the Inclusive Community if you would like to read more about this.

p.s. For an account of Chaplaincy from the University’s point of view, please see the Dean of Students Mark Crawley’s welcoming address.

 

 


23.06.13