Thought for the Day : Wednesday 20 January

Thought for the Day by Robin Fishwick

Thoughts on “Emmanuel”

I think it must have been the Spring of 1979 when I first set foot in Emmanuel. I had learned from my Anglican and Methodist friends that the church near the Parkinson Tower was where the Chaplaincy was based. One Sunday I went to  the Eucharist which I found to be very similar to the Catholic Mass I grew up with and I enjoyed chatting with friends and meeting new people after the service. The choir then started rehearsing an anthem I recognised and within minutes I had joined the Emmanuel Choir. I suppose that was the start of a love affair with Emmanuel that many years later brought me back to the refurbished building as a Quaker chaplain.

Emmanuel Church became the heart of University Chaplaincy in Leeds just because it happened to be where it was – right where much of the University and the Polytechnic was to be built in later years. And it just happened to be called “Emmanuel” – “God with us” – a name that in itself epitomises what chaplaincy is about.

Chaplaincy isn’t like parish ministry. It isn’t inviting people to come to our place, it’s being with people in the place they are already – be it a university, a hospital a prison or an airport. It’s not so much being a host as a guest, not so much taking people on a journey as joining them in theirs, not so much leading as accompanying. Chaplaincy is about being with people just as God is with us.

Since the pandemic took hold, though, we have had to look again about how to be that presence, as by and large we are not wandering about the campuses – and when we do there are not so many people about anyway. How to be that presence when we, and the people we serve, are, by and large, absent? 

We continue to struggle with this, but there have been for me some unexpected flowers in the desert. One has been the sense of “spiritual” presence. A Quaker once wrote “In the real spiritual world there are no starts and ends, all space, time and life are boundless and eternal.” From time to time in shared worship, even shared silence by Zoom and telephone I can become aware that I am no less close to the person I am with, even though I am only with them “remotely”, than if they were with me in my little office in the Emmanuel building. In the real spiritual world there is no remoteness. There is only presence

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